Foie Gras Follies: San Francisco's Symbolic Resolution, Ignoring Lesson from Chicago

When San Francisco supervisors passed an entirely symbolic resolution last Tuesday commending city restaurants that don't serve foie gras, they were ahead of the state law -- SB 1520, passed in 2004, which essentially bans foie gras production or sale in California, as of July 1, 2012.

But they ignored the lesson of Chicago, not quite as renowned a foodie mecca as San Francisco, but apparently a more realistic one, whose city council banned restaurants from serving foie gras in April 2006 and dropped it in May of 2008.

Mayor Richard Daley said that the ban was the "silliest ordinance" that the city council had ever passed, saying it made Chicago the "laughingstock of the nation."  Many Chicago restaurants continued to serve foie gras, despite the ban. (In fact, foie gras acquired something of an speakeasy-style allure much as did alcohol during our nation's great experiment with Prohibition. And we all know how well that turned out.)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals decried the overturning of the ban in Chicago. (Big surprise.)

The production of foie gras involves overfeeding of ducks and geese in order to produce enlarged fatty livers. Proponents of banning foie gras call this force-feeding, insisting on its violence and cruelty. Proponents of banning foie gras, interestingly enough, can turn to rather violent and cruel methods their ownselves. In 2003 they targeted chef Laurent Manrique, who had partnered with two El Salvadoran brothers to produce and sell artisanal foie gras. His  home was spray-painted, acid was poured on his car, and the shop, Sonoma Saveurs, was broken into, also spray-painted, had water left turned on after plumbing was plugged with cement, damaging not just Manrique's shop but others adjoining his in a historic 1842 adobe building on the Sonoma Plaza. Most frightening, and reminiscent of tactics of anti-abortion groups, videotapes showing Manrique and his family inside their home were delivered, along with threatening letters.

Coincidentally, of course, Sonoma Saveurs no longer has a retail store, and Manrique is no longer associated with it. (Re-writing history somewhat, a current staffer said when asked that Manrique had only been involved with their adjacent restaurant.)

Despite similar techniques being aimed at Chicago chef and native of Dordogne, France, Didier Durand -- while campaigning to end the ban, he was threatened, his restaurant's windows were blood-stained, and its patio was vandalized -- he persevered. Now he plans to add a foie gras museum to his restaurant.

Many restauranteurs and others feel that PETA and their ilk are using foie gras as a stalking horse. If they succeed in banning it nationwide, soon to follow would be, among other foodstuffs, lobster, veal, and chicken.

The delicacy is produced by only three artisans in the US, and consumed in miniscule amounts, as local Incanto restaurant owner Mark Pastore writes in a long, thoughtful, and eminently worth reading open letter entitled Shock and Foie: The War against Dietary Self-Determinism, (already presciently linked by our Robert Lauriston here weeks before the SF resolution was passed). 

He discourses learningly on gavage, the force-feeding technique used on animals who, unlike humans, have no gag reflex, and which is used routinely to feed ill or injured duck and geese.

As Pastore wrote, it's not cruelty per se that cause the foie gras producers to be 
the current cause celebre:
     "Foie gras famers -- and those who serve it -- are targeted for simple and eminently
      practical reasons: This is quite literally the smallest and most defenseless segment
      of the U.S. meat industry...the attack on foie gras consumption in the U.S. is 
      therefore a tactic...Don't start with a full frontal assault on a food that everybody

(I.e., trying to ban chicken would have your everyday chicken-eaters up in arms, as well as producers and restauranteurs, despite the well-known battery-farm situations as seen in such movies as Food Inc. Beware the power of KFC and KFC eaters, as PETA and their ilk know well. Start small.)

San Francisco's resolution was championed by Ross Mirkarimi, who was quoted in advance of the resolution's passing about the deep thinking that went into its creation: "I'll be honest with you, we don't put that much time into this. We craft these within minutes."

Gavin Newsom's press secretary, Nathan Ballard, using sarcasm as his weapon of choice, had this to say when asked his opinion of the resolution: "Clearly Supervisor Mirkarimi has crafted a solution to one of the most challenging issues facing our city. This landmark legislation will soon seek its place in the history books."

Still, since Berkeley declared itself a nuclear-free zone, no nuclear warheads have gone off within its city limits, nor nuclear power plants have been constructed. Who's laughing now?

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