Sunday, April 30, 2006

What would Tony Bourdain do?

This week on No Reservations, my culinary hero Tony Bourdain went to Quebec's Au Pied Cochon and had a 13 course French meal with delicious foie gras in practically every dish. It looked simply delicious - the poutine (so wrong yet so right), the "hot dog" and "hamburger", the ducked stuffed with foie gras, the duck in a can, and the pig heads.
Sad news for people who love food this week though as Chicago banned the serving of foie gras in its retaurants. I understand the process of making foie gras, "gavage", is considered cruel by some, but I see it more existentially. Since, it's all coming to an end, we need to take advantage of the simple pleasures in life, food being one of them. I just don't feel government should legislate what we eat, especially something like foie gras which most people haven't eaten anyways. Oh no- lobsters scream when thrown alive in a pot, veal is torture for baby calves - what next?
I imagine Mr. Bourdain lighting up his cigarette in a restaurant after eating his 7th course of fois gras and saying, "Life's too short anyways. Enjoy."


Anonymous said...

The below is from Michael Pollan's article "An Animal's Place", which you can find in its entirety here:

Warning: May Be Disturbing to Some Readers

Which brings us -- reluctantly, necessarily -- to the American factory farm... To visit a modern CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a world that, for all its technological sophistication, is still designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this any more, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else.

From everything I've read, egg and hog operations are the worst. Beef cattle in America at least still live outdoors, albeit standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick. And broiler chickens, although they do get their beaks snipped off with a hot knife to keep them from cannibalizing one another under the stress of their confinement, at least don't spend their eight-week lives in cages too small to ever stretch a wing. That fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who passes her brief span piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage whose floor a single page of this magazine could carpet. Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ''vices'' that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding. Pain? Suffering? Madness? The operative suspension of disbelief depends on more neutral descriptors, like ''vices'' and ''stress.'' Whatever you want to call what's going on in those cages, the 10 percent or so of hens that can't bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production. And when the output of the others begins to ebb, the hens will be ''force-molted'' -- starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life's work is done.

Simply reciting these facts, most of which are drawn from poultry-trade magazines, makes me sound like one of those animal people, doesn't it? I don't mean to, but this is what can happen when . . . you look. It certainly wasn't my intention to ruin anyone's breakfast. But now that I probably have spoiled the eggs, I do want to say one thing about the bacon, mention a single practice (by no means the worst) in modern hog production that points to the compound madness of an impeccable industrial logic.

Piglets in confinement operations are weaned from their mothers 10 days after birth (compared with 13 weeks in nature) because they gain weight faster on their hormone- and antibiotic-fortified feed. This premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a desire they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. A normal pig would fight off his molester, but a demoralized pig has stopped caring. ''Learned helplessness'' is the psychological term, and it's not uncommon in confinement operations, where tens of thousands of hogs spend their entire lives ignorant of sunshine or earth or straw, crowded together beneath a metal roof upon metal slats suspended over a manure pit. So it's not surprising that an animal as sensitive and intelligent as a pig would get depressed, and a depressed pig will allow his tail to be chewed on to the point of infection. Sick pigs, being underperforming ''production units,'' are clubbed to death on the spot. The U.S.D.A.'s recommended solution to the problem is called ''tail docking.'' Using a pair of pliers (and no anesthetic), most but not all of the tail is snipped off. Why the little stump? Because the whole point of the exercise is not to remove the object of tail-biting so much as to render it more sensitive. Now, a bite on the tail is so painful that even the most demoralized pig will mount a struggle to avoid it.

1000yregg said...

first, posting anonymously is pretty lame - stand behind your comments with some identity.
second, i'm glad you are so concerned about the mental cruelty inflicted upon animals people raise for food, and i'm sure you live your life accordingly. that's fine.
my contention in my post is that government should not dictate the serving of foie gras in chicago, and deprive persons from enjoying a rather specialized dish based upon the political pressure from those who do not even enjoy it because they consided it's production inhumane. a more reasonable approach is appropriate regulation of the methods in it's production, not an overall ban on the product itself.
most foie gras is not produced in "factory farms" because the demand is simply not there (otherwise mcdonald's would be serving it).

Anonymous said...

My name is Steven. I'm 32 years old, and I'm from Syosset, Long Island.

I understand your position much better now. When you said, "I just don't feel government should legislate what we eat" I thought this included production. But now I understand you better when you say, "a more reasonable approach is appropriate regulation of the methods in it's production, not an overall ban on the product itself".

Is it possible to create humane foie gras? Groups like The Humane Society of the United States say 'no'. That's because an integral part of foie gras is the force feeding aspect, which is considered by some to be cruel in itself. This is the logic I think they used in banning it outright.

But is it force feeding, in itself, cruel? There's definately a debate.

The ducks suffer
No research supports this, but it's more complicated than that. Animal rights groups claim that "you can prove anything with statistics" but they don't offer any concrete experiments in rebuttal. One could argue that the research only focused on one aspect of stress (levels of stress chemicals in the birds), but currently that's the only thing out there. When the EU formed a committee to investigate the welfare of birds raised for foie gras, the committee concluded—somewhat unconvincingly—that foie gras production was detrimental to the birds (especially when raised in battery cages), but even they acknowledge the studies about stress levels.

The 'Controversy' section on Wikipedia also has good information,