We spent most of the weekend in and around the Town of New Paltz where Pardus lives in a house with central heating. I had not been to New Paltz since visiting my youngest brother while he was enrolled at SUNY New Paltz sometime during the Holocene Era (ca 30 years BP). To my surprise and delight, the scene on the streets of New Paltz has not changed much since my first visit there in the late 1960's.
Most of the people on the street look to be about 21 and on a mission to be down. There are lots of restaurants (yawn), book stores (yeah!) and at least one head shop -whose owners seem to think that placing skateboards and Xtreme! SPoRtZ themed T-Shirts in the window is going to magically distract attention from the interior display cases filled with crack-pipes, hookahs and other instruments of psychic and physical self abuse.
It is easy to forget how beautiful the Hudson River Valley is at this time of year. (A shameful admission for someone who lived there for the better part of three decades.) The shear cliffs of the Shawangunk Mountains to the west look inevitable as they soar above the valley of the Wallkill bristling with slamming trees all blown up with color. Referred to by locals and cognoscenti as the Gunks, the effect of their juxtaposition against the wooded valley walls lend new and ironic meaning to the name of the character in the eponymously named movie Forest Gunk. Okay, I'll stop BS-ing now
On Saturday morning Pardus and I broke camp early and drove up to Hudson Valley Farms. Since I began blogging about attempts by radicalized vegans and credulous politicians to ban foie gras, I have become friendly with HVF's operations manager Marcus Henley, who invited Mike and I for a tour. We spent about four hours walking around and I was surprised (and relieved) that I did not find anything that disturbed me.
I had not expected to see animals being visibly abused, but I thought I'd see something to justify all the bad press HVF has gotten thanks to PETA, The Humane Society of the United States and their subsidiaries. Our presence was not going to be a secret to the staff, and I was sure everyone would be on their best behavior. But I figured even if they worked OT they couldn't hide everything. I thought for sure that I was going to find something that gave me reason to believe the worst. But in the end, the worst thing that happened was that one of the barns smelled funky. I'd have preferred an aroma with more subtle notes of urea. But really it wasn't any worse than the aroma of a poorly ventilated locker room.
All the other barns were as clean as the cleanest barn I have ever seen. The pens of the ducks who were being hand fed (gavage) were also very clean. The ducks themselves looked a little ragged because as they become really fat it's harder for them to preen so their feathers loose a lot of their sheen. All of the animal facilities are regularly washed with viricide to prevent infection and the processing rooms were positively immaculate. Even the slaughtering room smelled good. I'm serious about this, it smelled like fresh duck fat.
I am mindful of the fact that some readers are going to look at the pictures below and think "Is he kidding? There are pictures of ducks being force fed, ducks being hung upside down, stunned and slaughtered and he says that the worst thing anywhere was the smell?"
There is not much I can say to this except that if you don't eat meat or have never consciously killed anything and eaten it, then it is unlikely that there will ever be a perfect way to raise and kill animals for food. So let's move on. But for those who eat meat, treasure it as a part of our cultural heritage and who may think of meat as an object of craft, the photos should not disturb you at all. Finally, if you know a little bit about how animals are treated in big factory poultry farms where the birds are de-beaked, jammed into cages and slaughtered by the tens of thousands, Hudson Valley Farms should look like a model of responsible and ethical animal husbandry.
In conclusion I have to say that the image of the foie gras farming that has been put out there by PETA, The Humane Society of the United States (and others) appears to have nothing to do with what I saw going on at Hudson Valley Farms. There may be other foie gras producers who jam steel tubes down the throats of ducks (the tubes at HVF are soft rubber) and force them to eat until they explode and blow their guts all over the room. But that does not seem to be the case here. And no, I don't think that the handlers waited for us to leave before they resumed their torture. Given that they get paid a bonus for every duck they bring alive to slaughter it'd be pretty stupid of them to do anything that might hurt a duck.
BTW, Tony Bourdain was at Hudson Valley Farm the previous week with a camera crew. I think Marcus told me that whatever it was he was shooting for is going to air in December.
Whatever it was he was shooting you can be sure it wasn't a PETA commercial.