Did you notice the foie gras protest in front of 112 Eatery last month? People were lined up in a picket line up and down the block, waving signs printed with stock photography of abused ducks, and holding their signs up against the restaurant’s picture window glass so that diners inside would see them. The protest was led by a radical group called the Animal Rights Coalition, which opposes all farms—yes, all farms. Enjoy reading their brochure “The Humane Farming Myth,” which states that any farm:
“Regardless of the farming operation’s size or certification, the animals are still confined, their reproduction is still manipulated, their bodies are still mutilated, and their social and familial bonds are still severed . . . But what’s so kind, tender, merciful, or sympathetic about confining, manipulating, and killing animals? Quite simply, there is nothing ‘humane’ about a process that inevitably results in the death of an animal.”
So, all farming, small family farms raising chickens and eggs, ranchers grazing bison on prairie, every single person supplying us with milk, meat, or eggs—these are bad farms. ARC opposes all of them. They oppose your Thanksgiving turkey (with an annual Turkey-Free Thanksgiving initiative!). ARC opposes your game day bratwurst (with repeated events at Gopher games at the U, where they hand out highly processed Tofurkey brats) even though highly processed real food substitutes have been implicated in everything from suppressing the immune system to suppressing fertility and exposing people to carcinogens.
But never mind, the ARC is against eating animals, they want you to eat tofurkey bratwursts. But you’re probably not going to discard your bratwursts, right? So they’ve decided to start somewhere else—with foie gras, at restaurants.
Needless to say the ARC opposes foie gras. Why do they oppose foie gras? Because they see it as the thin edge of the wedge, as helpfully laid out in this document.
In short, ARC has determined that most people don’t know what foie gras is (44 percent have never heard of it), that most people don’t ever eat it (59 percent of respondents), and, once ARC tells them a few things, fully 74 percent of the people ARC asked are perfectly happy to support’s ARC ban in foie gras production. To that end they are instituting a campaign to try to ban foie gras in Minnesota, by staging protests at restaurants, and generally making chefs and restaurants miserable. The eventual result of such a ban would be to drive local farmers out of business and reduce the quality of local restaurants by preventing them from having access to one of our greatest local ingredients and limiting their ability to cook some of the world’s greatest dishes.
Is there anything we can do? Landon Schoenefeld, chef at HauteDish, says yes.
“I don’t want to be afraid of these people, I’m not afraid of them picketing in front of my restaurant, and I think someone has to take a stand,” Schoenefeld said. “In California, chefs saw this hippie, PETA, vegan thing and blew it off thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal,” and now foie gras is banned in California, and the farmers who raised foie gras have been forced into bankruptcy.
Multiple lawsuits stemming from the California ban continue to cost the state today. Foie gras was once briefly banned in Chicago, causing the city much consternation, and costing the city much in lawsuits, until the city council repealed it. Chicago’s Mayor Daley called it “the silliest law that they’ve ever passed.”
To prevent a similar ban from gaining political traction here, Landon Schoenefeld is starting a group of chefs and diners who will support foie gras, and especially will support restaurants who are being targeted by the ARC.
“When I heard about this protest, we dipped our heads around the corner, and thought: This could be us next. People were banging signs on the windows—who wants to sit there and eat with that going on? So I started contacting every industry person I know, and everyone texted me back and said: Yes, let’s do this,” he said.
The other thing you can do is think about what foie gras means to you, and whether when local protestors come for foie gras they’ll do so with your consent.G
Here’s what foie means to me.
First, foie production doesn’t bother me at all. In the fall, waterfowl such as ducks and geese eat as much as they can in preparation for their long flights or food-less winter. Any Minnesota hunter can tell you as much, ducks in autumn here are fatty beyond belief, you can get a literal quart of fat from a single roast duck, and their livers are fatty beyond belief too. People noticed this natural phenomena long, long ago. Long ago. An ancient Egyptian tomb, the Tomb of Mereruka, from some 5,000 years ago, shows ancient Egyptians feeding extra grain to geese in the process now called gavage. Gavage is how we get foie gras today, by giving ducks or geese tons of grain through a feeding tube, and it looks pretty crazy to human eyes—if you think that ducks and geese are human. Because if that was you, what would it feel like to have an enormous amount of grain poured into your throat? It would feel awful. But ducks and geese are not people, they swallow giant things all the time, fish, frogs, clumps of weeds, whole molluscs. They don’t have teeth to chew them to make them other than whole. They have a totally different anatomy than we do. What would it be like for you to eat a whole mussel in the shell? Ducks do this routinely. They also swallow sharp rocks to use in their gizzards.
When the rocks wear down, they vomit up the rocks, and find new sharp ones to swallow. Is gavage, the process of giving ducks or geese a huge amount of grain, more uncomfortable than swallowing a whole fish, a mussel, or sharp stones? We don’t know, but we do know that free ducks or geese look forward to gavage so much that they’ll rush to the person feeding them for their turn. Watch Perennial Plate’s fantastic film for proof.
Another point: In addition to their livers, we eat the whole of foie gras ducks or geese, their breasts, their feet. And if we didn’t eat foie gras ducks and geese for meat, they would not just be living happy lives unmolested, they’d never exist at all. The Minnesota ducks we eat for foie gras lead great lives out of doors, in the care of dedicated farmers Christian and Liz Gasset at their farm Au Bon Canard.
It’s a product that most of our best chefs use, and it’s something that unites our local restaurant scene with the French court of 200 years ago, with L’Escoffier, with Fernand Point, with Ferran Adria, with Thomas Keller.
How do I make that leap? Since the time of the Pharoahs, Europeans have been eating foie gras. It was big in ancient Rome, big in subsequent Italy, big in Spain, big in Germany, big in ancient Palestine, and biggest of all in France, from where we get our highest cuisine. Foie gras is a cornerstone of highly developed gastronomy, as much as champagne or a cream sauce is. Now you may say, couldn’t chefs cook without foie gras? Of course they could, but there’s no difference between Minnesota foie gras and Minnesota pork, chicken, or beef, except that animal rights radicals sense an opportunity to score a win against meat eaters.
ARC protestors know this. They don’t show actual pictures from Au Bon Canard when they’re protesting, they show pictures of dirty, caged ducks from heaven knows where. It’s propaganda stock photography.
“They have these photos of a dirty, filthy duck in a dirty, filthy pen,” Schoenefeld said, “and we spend so much time developing relationships with farmers. We’re the ones who care the most about developing a quality product, and about what we feed people. We don’t want to be serving inhumanely treated animals.”
Unless you believe that all animals raised for food are inhumanely treated, no matter how they live, given the fact that eventually, they’re eaten.
I don’t believe that. I believe in good farmers.
I’ve spent my career supporting the great local farms and farmers in Minnesota, and this anti-foie gras movement is just a stick in the eye to them, to chefs, and to me, saying, “We don’t believe in farming, period, and we think we can pick off the one member in your community who looks most vulnerable, and we’re going to use dirty tricks and intimidation to try to turn people who aren’t really paying attention against that member of your community.”
“Foie gras is an easy target because it’s fancy,” Schoenefeld said. “People view it as being for the rich. But in this town, there’s been a huge democratization of good food, it’s not just for the elite upper percentile, restaurants are giving access for these things to everyone. I’m a poor kid from South Dakota who grew up on Dinty Moore canned stew, I never thought I’d be living some kind of life with foie gras in it, if I had ever even heard of it. But now I know food, and the farmers and the chefs behind it, and I’m more afraid of losing everything great that we have than I am of threats.”