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.


weezermonkey said...

Amen, my friend.

Phil Nigash said...

Great piece, Diana.

I've had foie on a number of occasions, and enjoyed it whenever I had it. Can I live without it? Most certainly. What I can't live without is the freedom to eat what I wish, when I wish. These animal rights activists speak of foie gras just as proponents of smoking bans speak of cigarettes.

I'm afraid it only starts here. They start leaning on the pork industry and all Hell is going to break loose. Bacon lovers will riot in the streets.

sarah j. gim said...

good job, lil D. i feel the exact same way. find foie gras sort of gross, but i do appreciate that *I* get to choose not to eat it, someone else chooses *to* eat it, and chefs choose whether or not to serve it.

(also? i do find that making foie gras SUCH A HUGE deal to talk about when there are WAY bigger fish to fry (literally?) in the food world is just sort of stupid.)

also? hi!

Diana said...

Weez - Thank you! Sounds like I'm preaching to the choir with this one. ;)

Phil - I can't even imagine if they tried to slaughter bacon! It really is a slippery slope with these types of things... but who knows if it will end up sticking? Chicago ended up repealing their foie ban.

Sarah - Hi! And thank you! Same page, same page! :) Down with foie... until someone tells me I can't eat it. ;)

yutjangsah said...

Thought provoking and elegantly well written as always. I will miss Animal's loco moco.

Gastronomer said...

I've been thinking a lot about foie gras, especially in France. We went to a foie gras far and watched the feeding. I'll have to tell you about it in person.

The ban will be overturned, I just know it.