Friday, June 29, 2012
The Foie Gras Ban: A form of artistic censorship?
My first reaction was relief.
No longer would I have to be the sole party at the table not interested in ordering two of every single foie gras dish on the menu.
No longer would I have to pretend that I enjoyed eating foie gras donuts or foie gras tater tots or foie gras french fries covered with foie gras gravy with little foie gras lobe babies on the side.
I could get my beet salad with burrata, my grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, my decidedly pedestrian seared scallop, and not feel guilty for eschewing the more gastronomically forward duck liver. The liver that would somehow identify me as a legitimate authority on food rather than a girl who eats an indecent amount of quinoa.
While I've had many excellent preparations of foie gras during my Los Angeles foodeducation -- a terrine that found its PB&J companion in a fold of warm pita, a foie gras filling deftly tucked inside a pasta purse, and a seared lobe with maple bread pudding that devilishly married together the sweet and savory yin and yang of the eating rainbow -- I've never craved it as an entity like I do a burger, a bowl of ice cream or even a fish taco.
So it was relief I felt when I heard that it was to be banned in California -- relief that it would finally be excised from the realm of ordering possibility, paving the way for other dishes to enter into the dining table conversation.
Like the little gem lettuce salad nobody ever lets me get.
Yet it struck me one day as I was twirling words around in my head in an attempt to articulate my thoughts into a sensible paragraph that it wasn't, of course, about me. Nor was all the discourse on the matter about the morality of the issue at hand -- force-feeding ducks destined for slaughter.
It was, quite simply, about censorship.
In that moment, I wondered how I, as someone who identifies herself as a writer, would feel if I was legally bound from using a certain word to convey my message. If I was suddenly told I could no longer say, for instance, "juxtaposition" ever again. I don't make a habit out of using "juxtaposition" in my daily speech or correspondence, but I like knowing it's there -- I like having it as a tool in my arsenal when I need it to sharpen up a sentence or, more accurately, make myself sound smarter than I actually am.
Ultimately, foie gras is to a chef what a word is to a writer. A color to a painter. A note to a musician. An html code to a programmer.
While there isn't a definitive answer as to whether gavaging a duck is more or less humane than raising chickens in cramped cages or less morally defensible than say, driving up the price of quinoa to a point where the people who benefit the most from its nutritional value can no longer afford to buy it, there is somewhat universal agreement in this country on the subject of censorship.
At the risk of overdramatization, the foundation of the constitution was built upon it.
For the California chefs who've been writing with foie gras their entire careers, it's an omen of what's to come. The first pebble knocked down a slippery slope into a world where the ingredients they paint onto a plate are stripped from their palat(t)e.
I still don't necessarily want to order it at a restaurant, and I don't regret that I didn't make it to any of the "Farewell to Foie" dinners around Los Angeles this month, but I do feel grief at what it represents.
The deletion of a word from the culinary dictionary.