Full Disclosure: At some point I may have eaten some foie gras; fattened goose liver thought by folks who like that sort of thing to be a delicacy. I know I’ve been in rooms where such items were presented, but I can’t testify as to whether I liked foie gras or not. I know as a kid I used to love a liverwurst sandwich with lettuce on rye bread, although we specifically ate the version known as Braunschweiger. I know, I know: This stuff right here is fascinating, but hang on.
There has been protest over foie gras in Santa Monica from people who are against cruelty to animals, with some protestors specifically targeting Santa Monica restaurant Melisse. Yet California recently repealed a July 2012 ban on foie gras sales and the overfeeding of geese to produce foie gras. While the geese used in foie gras production have a natural predilection toward over-eating, force-feeding can sometimes be involved in getting that liver up to foie gras specs. Although if you could interview a cow raised, killed, and cut-up with industrial efficiency to make a Happy Meal, maybe the cow would think the geese were simply other prisoners of our meat-centric western diets.
From various sources, let’s have a look at what’s inside my beloved Braunschweiger: The USDA requires that the product contain a minimum of 30 percent liver. A typical commercial formula is about 40 percent pork liver or scalded beef liver, 30 percent scalded pork jowl, 20 percent lean pork trimmings and 10 percent bacon ends and pieces. Seasonings can include salt and often include white pepper, onion powder or chopped onion, and mace. “Curing ingredients” such as sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite are optional.
“Hey Bob, do I throw out these gnarly ‘bacon ends’?” “Heck no! Put those on the “Future Braunschweiger” cart!” Have a look at what the website LIVESTRONG says about the ‘optional’ sodium erythorbate: “Sodium erythorbate has been found to cause general side effects such as headaches, body flushing, generalized fatigue and malaise, dizziness, lightheadedness and hemolysis, a condition where red blood cells rupture leading to anemia and other complications.”
My point at this juncture is that while people are free to choose the specific target of their ire for protest, there’s plenty to get worked-up about inside the world of food production. Food producers – farmers — have their own menu of battles. But let’s stay on foie gras. Should people who can afford the prices at, say, a first-world restaurant such as Melisse be allowed to eat what they want to eat since there’s plenty wrong with other things in the production of food? Perhaps a more succinct question in a first-world city such as Santa Monica would be, “How silly do you want to look when you go out to eat?”
Our household enjoys dining out but we never make a point of seeking out or sitting in hideously expensive restaurants that are meant not so much for eating as for wearing, as you might luxury clothing. Now my life partner, who knows about such things, points out that the United States does not take pride in fine cooking the way, say, France does. There, delicious food is a matter of national interest. Here, we often supersize it and don’t even bother to get out of our car to buy and eat it.
So okay, Americans might have an underdeveloped palate. But if you have the certain knowledge that, at any given time of the day, people on this planet are starving or at least hungry… then where is the pleasure in reaching for the foie gras? What was the thinking when whale meat was brought into the Santa Monica restaurant Typhoon back in 2009?
I’m not sure there was that much thinking. And if foie gras protestors need some text for a placard, it might be “While you look self-involved and foolish, global hunger persists”. At the end of any given food production day, meat is likely cruel to the animals involved regardless of how you slice it. Yet I personally believe it is the destiny of some creatures to be a source of protein for humans, and you should send us your comments regarding that view. For now let’s agree that if people on a planet crying out with need are actually going to go to dinner and eat $600 worth of food in one sitting, they don’t need to torture animals to do so.