To get the obvious elephant out of the dining room, I have to wonder what might have happened if all the sound and senseless fury devoted to outlawing foie gras had been channeled toward shaming gun nuts. Eleven bullets per 6-year-old sounds more horrific than beaks getting shoveled full of corn like so many Americans at a Las Vegas buffet. (Also, too, you have to wonder where the leaking hearts are when it comes to horses. Now we’re learning they’re pumped so full of drugs the Europeans are afraid to eat that delicacy?) In all the ugliness after the latest big massacre, I remembered a food story I’d done for the NYT magazine way back when, on “hunters’ cuisine.” And I Tweeted a link but immediately deleted because it could be so easily misinterpreted. It ran less than 15 years ago, but the merchants of death have done such a good job skewing the national debate that no publication would touch anything like that today. While anyone paying attention would realize the guns blazing in theaters and grade schools and now restaurants are useless for hunting unless you like your meat already shredded.
I can’t count all the reasons future historians will look back and wonder WTF Americans were thinking as our only habitat heated up while a few lunatics decided to make overfed ducks the cause most celebrated. The real abuse with foie gras has been the tortured uses California chefs have put it to while engorging diners before the ban (“he injects jam in one side of the doughnut and foie gras mousse in the other, then rolls it in peanuts after frying”). If cruelty were really the issue, maybe the loons would be pushing to overturn the law that lets prison wardens in Alabama starve inmates and pocket the money saved on food? And how about these poor animals that appear to be suffering for milk? When does California outlaw buffalo mozzarella?
Also born (not borne) of Twitter, the new-to-me knowledge that ducks and geese sleep with one eye open — half the brain at a time checks out so the other half can stand guard against predators. Which is just the ultimate evidence that California’s ban on foie gras is not about preventing cruelty but about opening up the slippery-slope chute to no meat for anyone. If force-feeding were so unnatural/horrific, wouldn’t the birds snap fully awake as the gavagers came close?
Also, too, I tuned out nearly all the fluffing for the hometown paper’s big “morality of meat-eating” debate — it had all the validity of a HuffPost boob-science screamer, with its naked intent to amass links and comments. But I did read a news story in the relatively-sedate-for-Murdoch competition on the sad state of horses in this country that subtly made a very good case for the morality of eating horsemeat: to prevent suffering. Since the animal “rights” wackos got equine slaughterhouses shut down, horses often starve before they are sent off on long, miserable drives to abattoirs north and south of the ethical borders. If I were the naive type, I’d be wondering where all the concerned citizens of California are in preventing this outrage rather than outlawing the practice of letting ducks eat like the poors. But I’m probably among the very few not surprised that a grandstander would publicly ban foie gras while privately bowing to clients for private parties. Give that paragon a cheese-ass medal.
Speaking of horses, much in the news as food recently, the lede of the hometown paper’s front-pager on banning beast-of-burden-drawn carriages in the park was buried in the last graf. For once I’m on the animal-rights activists’ side, because this city will beat the manure out of the strongest human; horses don’t belong in the bedlam and mayhem. I also feel sick every time I see some sad old steed plodding along pulling the gross national weight of Iowa. But, as always, the issue is a little more complicated. As the last quote quoted noted, every horse saved would go straight to slaughter because there are no refuges to take them in, especially in a depression. At least the slaughterhouse would be on American soil. But horse tartare is still horse tartare. And I kinda doubt tourists would line up for it in the Plaza food hall, for a “real” New York experience.
It says everything that it took the Taiwanese animators to make the most fair-and-balanced sense of the cheval scandale. As someone who spends way too much time reading and not nearly enough writing, I already knew the issue was complicated. With hearts bleeding for ducks allowed to gorge to their guts’ content, everyone assumes inhumanity is involved in turning Seabiscuit into supper. But forcing the poor animals to be trucked out of the country for slaughter sounds far more traumatic to me. (Not that I’m whinnying, but the longest, hardest day of my life was the one spent getting from a hospital in Torino to our apartment in New York on a broken femur — and I had warm nuts in business class to ease me through it.) It’s fascinating to see people who happily eat cheap pork from abused hogs worrying about a protein many cultures regard as perfectly acceptable, even commanding a premium. I’ve tasted it only once*, the first time my too-curious consort insisted on ordering it, in a swanky restaurant in Florence where it was served in thin shreds as an expensive appetizer. I remember it was surprisingly good. But mostly I remember that the waiter kept wiping his oily nose and I later developed what felt like a particularly brutal form of bird flu. I would say “sick as a dog,” but that would be dinner in other cultures. Cooked at fever temp.
*Amended after a long walk: I remember I tasted it again, also in Italy, in Treviso, on bruschetta. And definitely not priced like dog food.
Finally, there’s something beyond ironic in the Germans of all people stepping up to declare foie gras a product of such unspeakable cruelty that it can’t be sold in their homeland. Of course, the fact that the Israelis have mastered mass production of the stuff is also unsettling if you think about it too much. But how can a country that tortures cabbage be passing judgment on any food?
For once I’m on the side of the animal rights (a k a “no meat for you!”) loons: Porking up monkeys to study obesity seems beyond cruel when it’s so obvious what makes humans fat. The researchers could just spend a New York minute in Real America. I’m sure there are millions of people who would happily stand in for the suffering simians with such a life: eat all day, never move? Knowing every 5 extra pounds puts 25 pounds of stress on your hips and knees, I just felt huge empathy for those poor cousins moping in cages when they were born to run, and climb. Talk about suffering for our super-sized sins. What’s truly sickening is that the misery is inflicted for ill-gotten gains: Big Pharma is torturing in search of the holy grail to market for megabucks. Not for the first time do I want to connect the dots with diabetes — what would be more lucrative than a whole country with an induced disease to treat for life? Maybe ducks and geese are blessed — only their livers get engorged by overfeeding. Plus some pleasure results from it; you certainly can’t sauté a pill. And man can’t get morbidly obese on foie gras alone.
File under onward and downward: The dessert innovation this Thanksgiving is three pies baked inside cakes and glued together with frosting; Go Fuck Yourself traveling around the world like a turducken, with his Airstream inside a cargo plane, was more appealing. (Now if they deep-fried either travesty, we could talk.) And there’s something sad about a once-renowned restaurant now happily competing with Joe Allen’s for the after-theater burger crowd. On the plus side, a hunter who shot and cooked a wild duck with an engorged liver finally provided graphic evidence of what sentient beings already understood: Those birds will naturally eat till their innards are fit for sautéing.
I Tweeted this but will say it again: If the foie gras crazies are so worried about avian welfare, shouldn’t they be picketing BP, not Bouchon and other Keller establishments? I imagine drowning in crude oil would be far more miserable than living like your average fast food junkie. Their spelling may be better, but these misguided zealots are the Teabaggers of food. Whether with food or with faith, those who truly believe generally don’t need to proselytize. Only vegans who are still tempted by a cheeseburger want to keep you from eating one. Maybe someone should invent Taliban-brand seitan.
I’ve been researching a story where references to things like reindeer meat at Christmastime keep popping up, so I wasn’t too surprised to see bunnies hopping down the Dining trail just before Easter. As I Tweeted, I don’t think Americans will ever be able to face their food in the fur. But the piece had almost as big a disconnect as Baccarat flutes in the age of dollar-store glassware. I can still hear the horror when Michael Moore dared to present Flint residents raising rabbits as food for cash. Now that old movie looks like the chronicle of America foretold. Still, I sided with the killers in this piece, at least looking at the cover photo over cappuccino at the kitchen counter with my consort. As I reminded him, rabbits may look cute, but watch out. I’ll never forget the bloody mayhem Bob provoked in Piemonte while shooting a special breed of rodents in the Slow Food ark — the poor farmer did as he was told and put the huge rabbit on his lap for the photo, and the tame thing shredded his forearms with its back paws. Those suckers are Glenn Close compared to your average chicken. Boil away.
Hellmann’s is the Rachael of the processed food world — its name is 98 percent likely to be misspelled every time. It’s equally good at catapulting the propaganda, too, garnering huge publicity merely for switching to “cage-free” eggs in one of its several lines of mayonnaise. Not to be all unappreciative or anything, but wouldn’t it send more of a message to save up a few extra million dozen until you can promote a switchover for the non-lite stuff? Otherwise, clean-conscience eggs are squandered in fud Michael Pollan would not advocate eating. But at least it’s not as silly as Chipotle hyping its change to “vegan chicken” for its burritos. I mean, really — those poor birds are sentenced to live without natural worms in their diet, only to wind up as mega-meals for meat eaters? Why not just keep them gluten-free and wrap them up in flour tortillas?
I am anything but soft-headed when it comes to foie gras, but I have to admit Bob Herbert’s column on the exploitation of the farmworkers who make it possible was disturbing. I can never understand why animal rights activists neglect the human kind. Even more mystifying is why fools who don’t know people are apparently dying from force-feeding at Guantanamo are all worked up about . . . dead fish. I guess salmon need their dignity even in piscine heaven, because there’s some brouhaha over Pike Place Market stuntmen throwing them at a veterinarians’ convention. Message to idiots: Stick a cod in your pie hole and be done with it.
My cranky cheesemonger friend forwarded me the release touting Costco’s caving to the foie gras nutcases and I laughed it off as ridiculous grandstanding — how many 50-lobe packs of the stuff could the chain possibly be selling? More important, foie gras really is not a food that ever belonged in big box stores; if it did, Smithfield would be on it like stink on hog shit. But my beleaguered friend has made me see the error of my thinking. Once the most powerful outlets give in to the crazies, the crazies will come after the weaker ones. And this is like the proverbial fight between two elephants — the grass getting stomped is the producer. So far, fattening livers is still perfectly legal. But this is a country where they shoot abortionists, don’t they?