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Foie Gras - Index
Force feeding of birds a sin
October 24, 2005
BY MATTHEW SCULLY
Gluttony, like any other vice, turns to anger when asked to explain itself. And so a few epicures and touchy French chefs are all worked up about Ald. Joe Moore's proposal to ban foie gras from Chicago restaurants. Foie gras is French for "fatty liver," but more precisely translated as the grossly enlarged liver of a tortured duck or goose.
The details behind the delicacy became a matter of controversy when Chicago chef Charlie Trotter decided a few years ago to see for himself whether the reports of cruelty were true. They were, he concluded -- the scene "was grisly, to put it mildly." Trotter removed foie gras from his menu. A hundred other Chicago restaurants followed, and when the issue came to Moore's attention he decided that foie gras -- already banned in nations from Israel to Austria, and scheduled for extinction in California -- was something the city could do without.
"Our laws," explained Moore (49th), "are a reflection of our culture. Our culture does not condone the torture of innocent and defenseless creatures. We as a society believe all God's creatures should be treated humanely."
If Moore is correct in the facts, then he is surely right on the moral points as well. Everyone has a duty to refrain from cruelty to animals, and that duty takes priority over anyone's attachment to a table treat.
To establish the facts, a hearing was conducted last month by the Council's committee on heath, where it fell to veterinarian Holly Cheever to lay it all out. The birds are force-fed with pipes, explained Cheever. "There is food spilling from the nostrils of these poor animals, who choke to death. As the [enlarged] liver fails, they develop a brain condition. You will see birds having seizures or in comas still being grabbed and force-fed."
Still, our appetizer is not quite ready: By the time they're done with the birds, "the liver is so expanded that, when the handlers put too much pressure on their abdomens, the livers may simply rupture and they die in massive pain and discomfort from internal hemorrhage."
By way of comparison, suppose it were discovered that by subjecting a lamb, calf or other farm animal to daily whippings, food producers could make their flesh that much more tender and flavorful. It would cost us extra, to cover the labor, time and special attention that went into lashing each animal. But those who could afford it would have themselves a meal to remember.
Most of us would say "no thanks," and our abhorrence for such practices would be more than a matter of taste. Exactly the same applies to foie gras. Like veal, it is by definition the product of a sick, abused animal, and if you want foie gras there is no respectable way to get it.
Nor is it any answer to point out, as some local chefs have done, that the animals are going to die anyway, so who cares how they're treated? Since very long ago civilized human beings have understood that it does matter how farm animals are treated and for what purposes suffering is inflicted upon them. Far from providing self-indulgent excuses to fill their lives with misery, the fact of their impending death is only more reason to grant the creatures who serve us a scrap or two of human kindness.
If Moore is looking for serious moral backup, he could do worse than Pope Benedict XVI. Animals, the pope has said, must be respected as our "companions in creation." While it is licit to use them for food, "we cannot just do whatever we want with them. ... Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."
This is the spirit behind Moore's proposal, and good reason to pass it. Cruelty to animals is a cowardly and disgraceful sin, always. And when you weigh it on the moral scale beside a frivolous little meal starter, the offense only looks more serious.
Matthew Scully, a former special assistant for President Bush, is the author of
Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.