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Friday, June 24, 2005 | I had my first taste of foie gras in Sarlat, France about twenty-five years ago. I was in school studying cooking at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. My soon-to-be husband gave me some extra money to spend, so I headed off to the Dordogne, home of truffles and foie gras, to try these delicacies. I’ve been hooked on goose liver ever since.
It seems that eating foie gras, or goose liver, in San Diego is now next to impossible. Animal rights activists have converged on the city and county with a vengeance. They think that force-feeding geese to create these delicious big fat livers is inhumane and should be stopped. This in-your-face group, however, doesn’t believe in discussing the issue. Instead, they check high-end restaurant’s Web sites for menus; they call and make inquiries about menu items; they send people to the restaurants to check and see if restaurants are serving this much treasured dish. Once the restaurant is a target, it receives a letter or an e-mail with graphic pictures of force-feeding geese and is threatened with picketing if the restaurant does not take foie gras off the menu.
Now I don’t know about you, but I have not given much thought to how geese feel when they are fed regardless of the method. I intend to continue to eat one of the greatest foods I have ever tasted with absolutely no guilt. No one is forcing any of these activists to eat foie gras. But they have managed to force Pamplemousse, Arterra, AJ Valentien, The Marine Room, Asia-Vous, El Bizcocho and Laurel to take the dish in any form off their menus. All the restaurants have caved in to the pressure because they can’t take the chance of picketers in front of their restaurants with placards showing pictures no one wants to look at. If the activists had their way, all we would eat would be berries and beans. And why simply pick on the geese and ducks? Have they taken a look at chicken producers or how many fish are caught in gill nets?
A recent article in The New York Times food section sited a possible bill in the New York State Legislature that would ban the production of foie gras. Producer Michael Ginor, an owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, actually supported the bill but only with the proviso that it would not take effect for 10 years. Fortunately for the state of New York, the bill’s sponsor has backed down due to heavy lobbying from the New York Farm Bureau. California was not so lucky. The California State Legislature has passed a bill ending production and sale thanks to the animal rights group.
I think that the method this group of activists is using is reprehensible. Of course, the restaurant owners have to cave in. They can’t take the chance of losing business because most people won’t brave crossing the picket lines. Someone is going to have to do a great deal more research on the brain power of geese and ducks before I can feel any sympathy. My suggestion to them all: put your energy and man power to better use. We have plenty of hungry men, women and children in this country. Your efforts would be far better served feeding them instead of worrying about how geese and ducks get their food.
Pamela J. Wischkaemper is a local food consultant and is the founder of San Diego Gastronomically Correct, a group that goes on the road twice a year to promote the San Diego restaurant industry. The only criterion for membership is having cooked at the James Beard House in New York. Nineteen chefs in San Diego are members.