Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fake Foie Gras: A Ripped Culinary Condom

As has been previously reported in our internationally famous blog and in the lesser known Wall Street Journal (from which one of us lifted the story) some chefs have responded to public unease over the alleged mistreatment of force-fed ducks and geese by concocting foie-gras facsimiles.

On it's face, making fake foie gras from chicken livers with copious amounts of butter or duck livers from conventionally husbanded ducks seems like a reasonable -if gastronomically bogus- response to wobbly consumers who only want to eat animals that experts tell them are happy before they are slaughtered. But A Hunger Artist avers that while these chefs may appease the troubled consciences of some meat eating customers, the prime movers behind the anti-foie gras movement will never be satisfied with this kind of trickery. Nor should they be.

The anti-foie gras movement is spearheaded by vegans who believe that it is morally wrong to use animals for food, labor, entertainment, clothing -in short anything other than pets (maybe) and aesthetic enjoyment in their natural habitat. Why would anyone with such an ethos be satisfied to stop people from producing, cooking and eating foie-gras yet let them get away with cooking chicken liver? If A Hunger Artist (AHA) knows anything about animal rights activists and vegans, we know that many of the most vociferous are highly principled people who are motivated by a profound empathy for non-human animals. AHA cannot imagine why such people would or should be satisfied with anything short of a complete ban on their consumption by humans.

Of course, there are more moderate types in the anti-foie and animal rights movement who vegan or not, seem to suggest that they would be okay with eliminating gavage and the use of cages and but we doubt that these type have much credibility with the core leadership of any animal rights organization. So it seems to us that unless the vegans who act as the moral center of animal rights organizations like PETA suddenly decide that there's nothing wrong with the concept of non-human animal consumption, there is no reason to expect that they are going to settle for eliminating the foie-gras industry and then stand idly by while chefs make fake foie gras from chicken liver.

If fake foie gras is intended to be a prophylactic against the demands of animal rights groups and sympathetic consumers it's a leaky one at best.

On The Record

A Hunger Artist is not opposed to veganism. Rather AHA admires vegans as principled folks who are trying to lead a morally-centered and consistent lives and supports them in their efforts to do so as long as they do not attempt to impose their choice on other people.

Likewise AHA is not opposed to meat eating and admires meat eaters who do not attempt to impose their choice on other people. Moreover AHA admires meat eaters who understand that
that meat eating must result in some suffering by animals, and are mature enough to recognize their culpability in the series of events that occur from the farmyard to the human gullet.


Robert said...

Great!Though I have to give some credit to the chefs who live in citys where it is Ilegal to sell Foie. Are smart enough to try and come up with something close to foie. Its kinda like american made absinthe yea it sucks compared to the real thing, but its all you can get.

Sean said...

While I personally wish all of those associated with the animal rights/protection movement were as singularly focused as you (and I unfortunately) have portrayed them, there is a fair amount of ideological diversity and disagreement. For instance, not everyone involved with the Humane Society or PETA are vegans and in some cases, even vegetarians. Both organizations are criticized constantly by the "abolitionist" side of the movmement for being in bed with the meat industry. A fairly recent example of this emerged during the Taking Action for Animals Conference 2007 held just a couple weeks ago and hosted by the Humane Society of the United States. The conference, opined in Herbivore magazine ( , reveals the sort of ideological differences within the movement and the tactics associated with them.

That being said, organizations like HSUS and PETA exist by virtue of winning "victories" for animal welfare, a bigger cage here, a more humane slaughter method there. Their very survival as organizations rely on creating new campaigns to rally the public, and their donations. Once cage free becomes the norm in the egg industry, the bar will be raised to pastured birds and so on, motivated as much by a vegan ideology as self-intersted business practice.

Where does all of this end? Vegans will never except anything less than total abolition and science seems to be on the verge of giving both vegans and the omnivorous public what they want. Meat, grown via stem cells, cultured in a lab, and produced in factories seems to be the inevitable future for most meat production. It has almost none of the ethical dillemas that plague traditional animal husbandry, undermines the negative health implications of meat, and can be produced more cheaply for less resources than cows or pigs ever could. Would you as a cook use such products assuming they were comparable in taste to traditionally raised meat? If they were slightly inferior, would their ethical implications motivate you to choose them?

fiat lux said...

Not to muddy the waters even further, but the ethics of meat eating are hardly uniform across cultures.

For example, Jewish and Muslim dietary laws are perfectly accepting of eating meat that meets certain strictures.

Bob del Grosso said...


When I was teaching at the CIA I used to bring up the example of cloned meat (this was before stem-cells appeared as a viable means of creating tissue ex-anima) as a potential solution to the ethical dilemma posed by traditional animal husbandry practices and meat eating. And while I do not recall any of my students taking me very seriously, I did and do consider it a potential solution to one of our oldest ethical problems. Now to answer your question.

I would use meat produced from stem cells if it had all of the characteristics of high quality meat but not if it was inferior.I don't care enough about meat to eat junk.

Neither, alas do I seem to care enough about animals to stop thinking about them as food. I'm not trying to be glib here, only honest.

When I decided to take up meat eating again after 7 years of vegetarianism, I told myself that I would only do so if I treated the meat I cooked with respect. That meant I had to cook really well and try to make sure that every part of what I bought and touched went into someone's body. I have not always succeeded in doing this but I like to think that I've done a pretty good job.

Don't suppose I'll ever know for sure. Like you I am not a deist so I don't expect to be told when the lights go out.

Bill Zimmermann said...

Excellent comments. Well rounded well written and awesome vocab there guys! No such luck here. But I want to say that I have been a Vegan for a year. Now I eat what are considered to be clean fish. But I long for the days when Foie Gras was on the menu and when I thought hamburger came from the refrigerator. Well, I was never quite that naive but I pretended to be. Still this cruel world persists and the only person who should tell you what goes in your stomach is you. But please consider the day when cruelty to spiders snakes or yellow jackets or "ugly" animals goes to trial and judgment. There is guilt everywhere if you look for it. Rights and opinion blur the lines of justice everywhere we look and if we were to take time to figure it all out we would be in for a lifetime of sorrowful thinking. Yes, life is not fair, people are horrible and geese suffer. So do cows chickens ducks pigs and all the rest. My Quaker Oats suffered to feed me on some level. As long as there are humans there is unnatural guilt. But somewhere we must forgive ourselves for being at the top of the food chain. I draw the line where I choose and you must do the same. My two cents.