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December 17, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Why Foie Gras is not Unethical (via The Browser)
posted by lucia__is__dada (105 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
At first glance I thought these livers were whole birds rather than single organs. Weird.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, that was not what I was expecting at all. Fascinating post, thanks.
posted by zarq at 10:27 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are some folks in this world who are absolutely convinced that all meat production is like that of a bad foie gras farm and no amount of evidence will sway their opinion. It's somewhat annoying, given that some of them like to give me shit about eating meat.
posted by wierdo at 10:27 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck.

Right. Just as video or photographic footage of one well-managed farm does not prove that the production is good for the health or mental well-being of a duck.

The arguments at the end are interesting, but the whole farm visit is the same thing he complains about at the beginning.
posted by graventy at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2010 [19 favorites]


I congratulate the author on his clear conscience.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2010 [14 favorites]


There are some folks in this world who are absolutely convinced that all meat production is like that of a bad foie gras farm

or one good foie gras farm.
posted by changeling at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


I guess more accurately one might say that when done as well as this farm seems to do it, it's no more unethical than eating any other kind of meat.
posted by empath at 10:31 AM on December 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I'm going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

Ethics: UR doing it wrong.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:33 AM on December 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


Interesting. I found the details about the gavage workers particularly compelling.

But the video of the tube feedings still kind of skeeved me out, despite the fact that it's supposed to be an example of how kind it is.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:34 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't see one duck vomit

This whole visit is sort of surreal. I had a flash vision of we humans as super predators, wolves in labcoats, fangs dripping blood as we check off items on our clipboards.

"Do these ducks look stressed to you? They don't look stressed to me."
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:38 AM on December 17, 2010 [19 favorites]


This was interesting. But I have big problems with this sentence, which is kind of necessary to the thrust of the piece:

Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I'm going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

That's commendable. But if I see foie gras on a menu, or at a dinner party, what's the probability that it was produced in the manner described here, and not with the cruelty and suffering and whatnot?

This article punts on that question, asking us to assume the best. What an odd thing to ask.
posted by gurple at 10:38 AM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Next up: Feed the Pig explains why sweat shops are not unethical.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:38 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yet again, this shows that sourcing your material is an important step of The Process.
posted by Pants! at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


This pretty much what Michael Pollan is talking about in regards to "The Glass Abattoir". Transparency is one of the best ways to ensure humane treatment of food animals.

The points about this being just one farm are valid; what I hope is that the piece encourages people to think that asking questions about where their animal food products come from and how they live, and finding ways for disinterested parties to document that, is a permissible, essential, and desirable process.

It's one of the real motivations for me to source my eggs and dairy locally when I can -- I know how those hens live because I can *see* them, not because "cage free" has been stamped on the box.
posted by endless_forms at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


O<
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm glad we are entering an era where meat-eating needs defense rather than vegetarianism.
posted by DU at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2010 [39 favorites]


This article punts on that question, asking us to assume the best. What an odd thing to ask.

I don't think that's true. Here's the key for me:
because those are the ones that I'm going to choose to buy my foie from if at all
The implication is that we are responsible for sourcing foie gras, if we want to consume it. Yes, this means do not consume foie gras at a restaurant or a friend's house if they can not tell you the source.
posted by muddgirl at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


There are other punts in the article -- "Like the other foie farms in this country, La Belle sends their female ducklings to Trinidad within weeks of hatching where they are raised for meat." Trinidad? From the US Northeast?
posted by endless_forms at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if I see foie gras on a menu, or at a dinner party, what's the probability that it was produced in the manner described here, and not with the cruelty and suffering and whatnot?

Two of the three restaurants I've had foie gras at noted on the menu that Hudson Valley was their source, and I have no doubt that the third also sourced it from a humanely run operation (the chef talked to us at length and in detail about where he sources his various ingredients). That's not the farm covered by this article, but it was visited by Anthony Bourdain and seems to be at least as well run (NB: that video is a bit more biased from the outset).

So, yeah, pick the right kinds of restaurants and you can be pretty sure the foie gras on the menu was produced humanely.
posted by jedicus at 10:45 AM on December 17, 2010


gurple wrote: "This article punts on that question, asking us to assume the best. What an odd thing to ask."

Well, the author does make the claim that all the foie gras farms in the US are run similarly well. Personally, I think judging anything by its worst excesses is yet another form of bad thinking. It's what leads the Republicans to call HCR socialism. (it's first example that came to mind; I don't mean to start a debate on that here)

If I followed that standard, I wouldn't be able to eat anything. A lot of meat is produced in incredibly shitty ways. A lot of grain and vegetables are also produced in incredibly environmentally destructive ways. Rather than starve myself to death, I do my best to buy from suppliers who produce in a sustainable and/or humane manner.

If we collectively make it more profitable to treat animals humanely and grow other food sustainably, that's exactly what will happen. If we instead sit on the sidelines and stay out of the market because we don't like what some farms are doing, nothing will change no matter how much screaming and yelling goes on. If there were no farms doing things humanely and/or sustainably, that would be a different kettle of fish, but that's simply not the case.
posted by wierdo at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


The video of the "duck eating a spiky fish" is actually a video of a cormorant. The author can't tell the difference between a duck and a cormorant, therefore I have no confidence in anything they say and hope they catch on fire.
posted by The otter lady at 10:47 AM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


How does one clean production facility in any way prove that force-feeding ducks is 'not unethical'?
posted by statolith at 10:48 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


The video of the "duck eating a spiky fish" is actually a video of a cormorant. The author can't tell the difference between a duck and a cormorant, therefore I have no confidence in anything they say and hope they catch on fire.

From the article, right above the video: "I tried hard to find a good video online of a duck eating fish, but they are all too blurry or too annoying to watch. The closest I came is this video of a cormorant, another migratory waterfowl."
posted by jedicus at 10:48 AM on December 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


Because if those duckers could, they'd forcefeed you and eat your delicious fatty liver.

Don't take your eyes off the prize, gentlemen!
posted by inturnaround at 10:48 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm still not sure if I could ever eat foie gras, but the description of duck physiology was fascinating. (Ducks breathe through their tongues? I had no idea.)
posted by maudlin at 10:50 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are some folks in this world who are absolutely convinced that all meat production is like that of a bad foie gras farm...

You're right. If you raise your own livestock, or buy from farmers you know, or hunt for your meat, then it's possible to ensure that the animals you eat aren't horribly abused before their deaths.

On the other hand, if you buy meat in chain supermarkets, then the chances are the animals were horribly abused.

I never give anyone shit about eating meat, by the way, unless they bring it up first.
posted by steambadger at 10:50 AM on December 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


Problem: foie gras?
Solution: France
posted by chavenet at 10:51 AM on December 17, 2010


There's one (well, two) reasons I don't eat foie gras. I don't like the taste of liver.

The other is the price.
posted by SansPoint at 10:51 AM on December 17, 2010


How does one clean production facility in any way prove that force-feeding ducks is 'not unethical'?

It's actually a very interesting argument, to me. The author takes a two-pronged approach to decided whether or not foie gras is ethical for him to eat and serve.

(1) Are the animals being raised in an acceptable manner? He believes that the production facility tour proves this point, and

(2) Is gavange harmful to the duck? He believes that physiologically, it is not.

If they are being raised acceptably and gavange or "force-feeding" is not harmful to the duck, then foie gras is only unethical if all meat consumption is unethical, which is an entirely different argument.
posted by muddgirl at 10:53 AM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


How does one clean production facility in any way prove that force-feeding ducks is 'not unethical'?

Because ducks are anatomically adapted for it in numerous ways (strong, stretchy esophagi; the ability to breathe while eating; a liver adapted to store fat; a natural tendency to gorge and fatten their livers before migrating; etc)? So therefore as long as the living conditions are good and the ducks are not roughly handled the whole process can be considered ethical.

And by the way there are some farms in France that raise poultry for foie in an even more humane manner by waiting for the fall. The animals gorge themselves naturally and then they're slaughtered. The yields aren't quite as good, and you can't get the product on demand, but it's pretty dang hard to argue with the ethics of it.

That is, unless you're starting from the premise that killing animals for food in general is unethical, which may be valid, but then there's no reason to care about the article or foie gras at all. You're starting from a completely different baseline at that point.
posted by jedicus at 10:54 AM on December 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


I suppose it's a question of what, exactly, the article is trying to defend. The article is titled "Why Foie Gras Is Not Unethical", and that's the tone throughout. A better framing for what the article actually demonstrates would be "How Foie Gras Can Be Ethically Produced".

There's a huge difference. The article could be trying to convince people to make sure their food is sourced like this, and not with undue cruelty. Instead, it seems to be trying to salve people's consciences about eating foie gras in general.
posted by gurple at 10:56 AM on December 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


steambadger wrote: "I never give anyone shit about eating meat, by the way, unless they bring it up first."

Unfortunately, you are not the sum total of non-meat-eaters. Thankfully, I've never had someone I don't know come up to me and tell me I'm making bad eating choices by eating meat, but people I know are more than willing to go on about it at times. They know I eat meat, yet they still want to eat dinner with me at my house (and I'm happy to cook them something meeting their dietary preference), and sometimes feel the need to tell me how I shouldn't be eating what I'm eating.

Thankfully, it's rare enough that I can put up with it without having to make a mental note to never invite them over again, but it does happen. Perhaps it will happen less as we get older. Young people in some ways are more outspoken about their views.
posted by wierdo at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2010


That's a very interesting article, and I'm glad I read it. It does give me a completely different perspective.

I still won't eat foie gras, though. Blecch.
posted by Curious Artificer at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2010


Personally, I think we can't judge an article based solely on its headline. It's a holdover from the old newsprint system and it does a disservice both to the reader and the author.
posted by muddgirl at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Someone should sit this guy down and show him a venn diagram. One good farm does not excuse an entire industry.
posted by londonmark at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2010


Why SOME Foie Gras is not ENTIRELY Unethical (DEPENDING ON HOW YOU DEFINE ETHICAL).

Fixed!
posted by Pants McCracky at 11:00 AM on December 17, 2010


I have a friend who grew up on a farm in Montana. He loves meat, almost every cut of meat, and he has butchered his share of several different kinds of animals. He has a saying that he likes to repeat when this subject comes up, and I share it with you now because I find it a remarkably clear statement of my own feelings about foie gras as well:

'I never eat filter organs.'
posted by koeselitz at 11:00 AM on December 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


Someone should sit this guy down and show him a venn diagram. One good farm does not excuse an entire industry.

But his point is that this one farm is representative of the entire US industry. There are literally 3 farms - the farm he toured is the second largest. If you are eating American foie gras, it is probably ethically raised.
posted by muddgirl at 11:00 AM on December 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


There's one (well, two) reasons I don't eat foie gras. I don't like the taste of liver.

I can't tell from your comment whether you've tried it, but foie gras does not taste like chicken liver. As for the second part, whole lobes of foie gras are expensive, but pâté de foie gras can be had for about $12 at Whole Foods, and it's enough to be a meal for two (with salad or fruit) or an appetizer for four.
posted by Hylas at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next up: Feed the Pig explains why sweat shops are not unethical.

Or, more accurately, why the existence of sweat shops does not render clothing inherently unethical.

Honestly, I think what all the foie gras debates seem to pass over is that ducks are vicious rapists who deserve to die in agony.
posted by kafziel at 11:02 AM on December 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


AND, if you're eating fresh foie gras in the US, it almost certainly comes from an American producer:
imports of the fresh version are not allowed and other imported tinned pates are subjected to stringent sterilization procedures that gourmets find takes away the best of the taste.
posted by muddgirl at 11:03 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


They know I eat meat, yet they still want to eat dinner with me at my house (and I'm happy to cook them something meeting their dietary preference)

Wierdo, do you turn the tables on them?
posted by Hylas at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are literally 3 farms - the farm he toured is the second largest. If you are eating American foie gras, it is probably ethically raised.


Yes, and the largest, Hudson Valley, has been on TV plenty of times. The gavage process just doens't lend itself to battery poultry rearing.
posted by JPD at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Duck Vomit would be a great name for a band.
posted by dr_dank at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


This sentence is from the FPP article:

"With a production of around 2,500 birds a week, La Belle Farms is the second largest of the three foie gras farms in the country (the others are Hudson Valley Foie Gras located a few miles away in Sullivan County, and Sonoma Artisan Foie in California)."

It appears to be saying that there are only three fois gras farms in the country. A 2007 essay by the American Veterinary Medical Association states that there are only two producers of foie in the U.S., the two New York farms. I'm not sure why the California farm wasn't included in that essay as its website says they started production in 1985.

(The AVMA article also indicates that California's ban on force feeding ducks goes into effect in 2012. I don't know if that's still true or not.)

A 2004 report on the economic impact of fois gras production in New York (commissioned by the Sullivan County fois gras producers) includes a pie chart on page 2 indicating that 71% of the foie sold in the U.S. comes from New York State and another 16% from California.

The websites of the other two foie farms describe care and feeding practices that appear similar to those of La Belle Farms.

If it's true that there are only three farms that produce foie in the U.S., and that those three farms account for 87% of the foie sold in the U.S., it sounds like there's a very good chance that any foie you eat in the U.S. has been raised under conditions like those presented in the FPP article. Most restaurants specify Hudson Valley foie on the menu.

This makes me wonder where the footage from a badly managed farm even came from in the first place. Seems like it would be far more difficult to find a bad farm than a good one, at least in the U.S.
posted by CheeseLouise at 11:10 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


There's one (well, two) reasons I don't eat foie gras. I don't like the taste of liver.

I don't mind the taste of liver; that is, I can stomach it, but I don't necessarily seek it out. However, I've only had foie gras once in my life* and it didn't taste anything like liver. In fact, it was delicious.


*I was on a business trip in Puebla, Mexico, in the late 1980s. I wasn't paying for the food. I was unaware of the force-feeding practices involved to prepare that tasty appetizer at the time. I haven't had foie gras since.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:10 AM on December 17, 2010


There are no photos or video of the good and ethical gavage.
That is a serious failure of the article, for me.

So while the ducks are technically force-fed, there is a level of built-in anatomical control so that the ducks can't take in any more food than they can physically handle. That's more respect than most fast food chains show for their human customers.

That is the second serious failure, for me.

How about making the duck feed so delicious that ducks found it completely irresistible?
posted by the Real Dan at 11:13 AM on December 17, 2010


Ethics!

In his book The Case for Animal Rights, Tom Regan, a philosopher who specializes in animal rights, says ...

"You don’t change unjust institutions by tidying them up. What’s fundamentally wrong with the way animals are treated isn’t the details that vary from case to case. It’s the whole system. The forlornness of the veal calf is pathetic- heart wrenching; the pulsing pain of the chimp with electrodes planted deep in her brain is repulsive; the slow, tortuous death of the raccoon caught in the leg hold trap, agonizing. But what is fundamentally wrong isn’t the pain, isn’t the suffering, isn’t the deprivation. These compound what’s wrong. Sometimes – often – they make it much worse. But they are not the fundamental wrong.

The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us – to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or put in our cross hairs for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable. … a little straw, more space, and a few companions don’t eliminate – don’t even touch – the fundamental wrong, the wrong that attaches to our viewing and treating these animals as our resources. To right the fundamental wrong of our treatment of farm animals requires more than making rearing methods “more human” – requires something quite different – requires the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture."

I, like, totally just finished an environmental ethics course yesterday ... fun/depressing topic! I do eat meat, but damned if I can ever look at a burger the same way I used to. Many arguments stem from potential sentience of animals. The less sentient, the more they're like rocks or tomatoes, the more morally ok it is for us to chow down. The more sentient, the less ok it is. But a problem here is that we humans have little clue what's going on in animals heads.

There's a range of animal sentience that overlaps our own, we do not know where that tomato cutoff is, and there are humans who are less sentient than animals ... yet we don't chop them up or run scientific tests upon them because that would be cruel.

Koko the Gorilla, who scored from 70 to 95 on IQ tests (average human IQ is 100) and feels embarrassment (thus self-awareness) and lies (thus has sense of morality); dolphins (and elephants) recognize themselves in mirrors and help stranded whales. Intelligence and morality extend to other animals as well, "What’s more, they appear to feel for other members of their communities, especially relatives, but also neighbors and sometimes even strangers—often showing signs of what looks very much like compassion and empathy."

We now know our nervous system and consciousness (Forum conversation with Antonio Damasio, neuroscience dude at USC) is quite similar to many (most?) other animals; even alligators.

Foie Gras is ethical? Foie not! This guy should study ethics. "Tony Bourdain likes to remind us that we see worse things committed against human beings on late night pay-per-view." No, Tony, those humans chose to have crap stuffed down their throats.
posted by mapinduzi at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2010 [10 favorites]


According to Bob, when the feeder feels the duck's esophagus, if there's any food remaining, she'll skip that feeding. So while the ducks are technically force-fed, there is a level of built-in anatomical control so that the ducks can't take in any more food than they can physically handle. That's more respect than most fast food chains show for their human customers.

Honestly, this is insane. They are shooting food down those animals' throats. If I eat the entire super size fries from McDonalds, I'm still making the choice to do it.

This guy can tell himself whatever he wants to justify his foie gras eating, but I'd bet he wouldn't want his dog treated the way those geese are.
posted by something something at 11:16 AM on December 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


How about making the duck feed so delicious that ducks found it completely irresistible?


The ducks natural gorging isn't organoleptically driven, its driven by their urge to migrate. It doesn't matter what the feed is, they would only gorge naturally in the fall.
posted by JPD at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us... Foie Gras is ethical? Foie not!

I don't think you finished the article:
If you are against the confinement, slaughter, and eating of all animals, then that's a different argument to be had at a different time. But to single out foie as the worst of the worst is misguided at best, and downright manipulative at worst.
This article starts from a different position. It assumes that eating meat is necessary to humans. It then implicitly asks, "Given that we must eat meat, can we think of a system wherein the ethics of such consumption are maximized?"

If you don't think that meat consumption can ever be ethical, then this article is not targeted at you.
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Foie gras lover who finds foie gras haters abhorrent writes article loving foie gras.

Well, I'm certainly convinced.
posted by orme at 11:19 AM on December 17, 2010


"I ordered us some foie gras," said Ford.

"What?" said Arthur, whose attention was entirely focused on the television.

"I said I ordered us some foie gras."

"Oh," said Arthur, vaguely. "Um, I always feel a bit bad about foie gras. Bit cruel to the geese, isn't it?"

"Fuck 'em," said Ford, slumping on the bed. "You can't care about every damn thing."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:21 AM on December 17, 2010 [20 favorites]


Good article: What really needs to happen is places like this need to aggresively advertise humane fois, and make the consumption of fois-gras a-la-PETA-nightmare socially unacceptable.
posted by lalochezia at 11:23 AM on December 17, 2010


Hylas wrote: "Wierdo, do you turn the tables on them?"

Nah. I don't mind having a meal without meat every once in a while. I don't get people who are vegetarian for reasons of (their own) ethics, but I don't mind their choice as long as they're not being evangelical about it while I'm trying to have dinner.
posted by wierdo at 11:39 AM on December 17, 2010


Wow. I've seen articles string together long chains of fallacies, but it's rare to see an article that is one fallacy stretched to article length. What an awful, awful article.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow. I've seen articles string together long chains of fallacies, but it's rare to see an article that is one fallacy stretched to article length. What an awful, awful article.

Truly, a high-wire act where the secret is not to let the audience look down at your uncertain riggings.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are no photos or video of the good and ethical gavage.
That is a serious failure of the article, for me.
posted by the Real Dan


The video jedicus linked to has footage that convinced me (Note- I haven't clicked the link as I'm unable to at work but I've seen the episode before which I believe this is from). Yes the people making these arguments are biased because they liked foie gras, but who is going to make the argument if they don't? Someone who hates it or has decided already that it's cruel? You can be biased and still be right.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:53 AM on December 17, 2010


I'd bet he wouldn't want his dog treated the way those geese are.

ducks wearing dog masks
posted by changeling at 12:11 PM on December 17, 2010


All this talk of Foie Gras. Can one just briefly mention that ideally, it should be paired with a chilled Sauternes (ideally Botrytized), lest this thread descend into total barbarism?
posted by ob at 12:11 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


If foie gras tasted like oatmeal I don't think anyone would be arguing in favor of gavage. Some people are willing to cause animals to suffer because they like the taste of their flesh. Some people are willing to cause animals to suffer because they don't have an alternative food source. I'm OK with the second group but I wish the first group would reconsider.
posted by ChrisHartley at 12:14 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'd bet he wouldn't want his dog treated the way those geese are.

Dogs and ducks are different animals. I wouldn't want my dog treated the same way people treat their cats, and dogs and cats are at least both mammals. I don't want people treating a cat the same way they treat a gerbil, or a gerbil the same way they treat a fish.

I think the most powerful point to the essay is how we anthropomorphise animals. Someone can make the argument that gavange is harmful to ducks, but comparing duck throats to dog throats or to human throats is an erroneous way to do so.
posted by muddgirl at 12:16 PM on December 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's always seemed incomprehensible to me to spend any time worrying about / banning / campaigning against foie gras in a world where large scale factory farming exists.

An upper bound on ducks raised for foie per year in the US is around 1 million. Chickens? More like 9 billion. We're talking 5 orders of magnitude smaller. And there's abundant evidence that conditions at the large-scale chicken operations are far worse than those at these relatively small foie producers.

What in the world justifies the attention paid to foie gras production?
posted by Perplexity at 12:26 PM on December 17, 2010 [14 favorites]


If I eat the entire super size fries from McDonalds, I'm still making the choice to do it.

Are you sure it's not the chemically addictive MSG?
posted by cmoj at 12:26 PM on December 17, 2010


Is this something I'd need to have a TV money to understand
posted by nola at 12:31 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


londonmark: "Someone should sit this guy down and show him a venn diagram. One good farm does not excuse an entire industry."

There are three farms in the US that produce foie gras. As has been pointed out, Hudson Valley was visited and filmed by Bourdain, and looks to be ethical.

That is 2/3s of the entire US foie gras industry right there. While I'd love to know how the other farm in CA treats their ducks, I'd say we have a statistically significant sample here.
posted by QIbHom at 12:32 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dogs and ducks are different animals.

This is true, but they both feel pain, certainly, and I don't think it's a stretch to assume both would prefer to eat when and what they want.
posted by something something at 12:35 PM on December 17, 2010


Fascinating article. Thanks for posting it!

gurple: But if I see foie gras on a menu, or at a dinner party, what's the probability that it was produced in the manner described here, and not with the cruelty and suffering and whatnot?

The internet has revolutionized our access to information but I think this is one area that still remains untapped. On a small scale, reputation ratings have been mostly effective for sellers on sites like Amazon and eBay; other sites offer ratings and reviews for restaurants, hotels, and the like. Google's made some good inroads in this direction.

I'm going to make a prediction... it's only a matter of time before a service steps onto the scene to offer comprehensive, verifiable info about every business you might consider patronizing. Like Consumer Reports for every industry, on demand. Once they release iPhone and Android apps, everything will change. Unethical business practices happen because uninformed customers keep funding them. Once it becomes quick and easy to get informed, companies will have no choice but to shape up or ship out.

I don't think this is far-fetched. I think we'll see it begin in the next ten years. Today, if you want [Product X] but don't want the [Evil Y] that comes bundled with it, you can't be that choosy without a great deal of research. But soon that kind of consumer empowerment will be simple, and commonplace.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:42 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think many here are missing the point: decent foie gras production is possible. By "decent" I mean that given we are assuming eating animals is okay, this method of production seems to treat the animals fairly well. Given that, and the fact that it is a luxury food item, why is so much attention paid to foie gras as an animal rights issue? The factory farming of chickens, pigs and cows mistreats far more animals per year, far more producers exist abusing their animals, the system itself produces unsafe food and the overwhelming majority of Americans eat meat from that system (unlike foie gras which I hazard to guess only a small minority of Americans ever eat). But, picketing a restaurant serving foie gras (which more often than burger joints source from ethical producers) is somehow the thing that gets attention.
posted by R343L at 12:48 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


and I don't think it's a stretch to assume both would prefer to eat when and what they want.

But most pet owners don't let dogs eat when and what they want. And that goes doubly for all farm animals - farm animals eat when and what the farm owner wants. So when we're talking specifically about foie gras compared to other farmed meat practices, this argument doesn't hold much water.

This is true, but they both feel pain

Ah, as I said, someone could make an argument that gavange is harmful or detrimental to a duck. The OP cited specific physiological reasons why force-feeding ducks may not actually cause them any harm or pain. Those can be refuted, but arguing that we should treat farmed ducks like we treat humans or pets doesn't refute anything.
posted by muddgirl at 12:51 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you don't think that meat consumption can ever be ethical, then this article is not targeted at you.

My apologies. I'm probably digging into ethics too much here, but got excited when I read the title. I should have taken his argument for the ethics of foie gras a little less seriously (though I didn't think I had taken it too seriously).

That said, the title does say "Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical." Which implies that he's making an argument for why eating meat is ethical, Foie Gras being a subset. So I read the article thinking this was targeted at me ... for he's telling me why it's ethical for me to eat foie gras. Perhaps he should have titled the article differently ... and perhaps I should have stfu.


"This article ... assumes that eating meat is necessary to humans."

That's a big assumption to which the rest of the argument is dependent upon and is never taken up ... but again, I mistake his title for his argument.


If you are against the confinement, slaughter, and eating of all animals, then that's a different argument to be had at a different time.

He did not prove this point. Why is it a different argument to be had at a different time? If he's arguing that eating foie gras is ethical, he should keep his gloves on ...


But to single out foie as the worst of the worst is misguided at best, and downright manipulative at worst.

I agree with that point, which is probably what the title intended to imply and I misread.

BTW - I didn't say that I'm against eating meat, or that I think it's completely unethical (though Regan might and though I did kinda imply that with my closing comment). I eat meat, but now I've got this ethics class poking me in the side and thought I'd share one of the more interesting viewpoints I found on the ethics of eating meat.
posted by mapinduzi at 12:54 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's a stretch to assume both would prefer to eat when and what they want.

The OP points out that ducks and geese gorge themselves in preparation for migration and that some foie gras producers actually produce seasonal foie gras by allowing natural gorging and then slaughtering the animals.
posted by immlass at 12:56 PM on December 17, 2010


muddgirl, of course I don't believe a cow and a cat, for example, should be treated identically in all respects. Even if I gave him the opportunity, I doubt a cow would be interested in snuggling on my pillow as I sleep. But I do believe all animals should be treated with as much dignity and respect as possible, whether we're going to eat them or not, and the way foie gras ducks are raised, even at this "humane" farm, doesn't fit the bill.
posted by something something at 1:00 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next up: Feed the Pig explains why sweat shops are not unethical.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:38 AM on December 17


If we are going to go that way (really, that should be a separate discussion), then yes. Not all "sweat shops" are unethical. When it comes to one member of a family working in difficult conditions in order to stave off abject poverty and starvation for a large number of people, then the sweat shop is not necessarily unethical.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 1:05 PM on December 17, 2010


That said, the title does say "Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical."

I already addressed the Headline issue. It's unfortunate that we continue to put so much weight on a short phrase that is meant to both sum up an article in 5 words or less and grab as many page views as possible. Personally I'd like to do away with headlines altogether and force people to actually read what's been written in entirety, but I'm possibly alone on this.
posted by muddgirl at 1:07 PM on December 17, 2010


But if I see foie gras on a menu

If the source of things like this isn't also on the menu, or told to you when they're talking about the menu, then you're in the wrong type of restaurant.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:12 PM on December 17, 2010


force people to actually read what's been written in entirety

Yes, but then we'd need to discuss whether that was ethical.
posted by nev at 1:15 PM on December 17, 2010


That said, the title does say "Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical." Which implies that he's making an argument for why eating meat is ethical, Foie Gras being a subset.

It only implies that if you're not aware of the controversy surrounding Foie Gras specifically, which is (mostly) unrelated to meat consumption.

If, on the other hand, you see everything through a "Meat is murder!" filter, why would you even bother clicking the link? Just to get your feathers ruffled?
posted by coolguymichael at 1:16 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you don't like it then don't eat it. It's my decision to make. No one else's.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 1:18 PM on December 17, 2010


Honestly, I think what all the foie gras debates seem to pass over is that ducks are vicious rapists who deserve to die in agony.

Does EVERY MeFi thread have to be about Julian Assange now?
posted by The Bellman at 1:19 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a dream on how to have 100% ethical and efficient meat production. I'd like to explain it as clearly as possible, with chickens.

1- It is possible to measure how stressed and animal is. I remember a TAL or Radiolab podcast on baboons or macaques and how scientist were measuring hormones in the blood and plaque in arteries to figure out who the stressed.

2- It is possible to selectively breed animals for mental characteristics and not only physical ones. Like the tame foxes experiment in Russia or dog domestication in the last many thousands of years.

3- One could build a chicken farm that is better than the worse we have, but still more efficient than real free range (where chicken are allowed to roam outside and forage at least part of their food). A farm were chicken are raised in cages.

4- Instead of selecting breeding stock based on size or color or any of the current selected for characteristics, animals are tested for stress. The least stressed animals are allowed to reproduce.

5- After many generations, you get chicken that are adapted to live in cages. Chicken who are happy to live in cages all their life, who would not have it any other way.

6- The animals are killed as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I would happily pay more for "happy living, quickly killed" meat than I do for normal meat.

Does anyone think there is any reason why this would not work?
Why this would not be ethical?
posted by Dr. Curare at 1:28 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have never seen a farm animal trying to get away from a feeding, so this still bugs me.

I'll have the caviar, instead.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:41 PM on December 17, 2010


Given that, and the fact that it is a luxury food item, why is so much attention paid to foie gras as an animal rights issue?

I think (at least in part) it's because it's a luxury food item. Some people are vaguely uncomfortable with eating meat, but not uncomfortable enough to stop doing so. Foie gras -- both because it's associated with wealth and indulgence, and because it involves the decidedly odd practice of stuffing a duck with food until its liver is the size of another, slightly smaller, duck -- provides a convenient balm for that discomfort.

I, on the other hand, am trying to figure out if I can leverage my own liver (which should be at least the size of a duck by now, and undoubtedly has delightful overtones of Belgian beer and Scotch whisky) for some sort of financial advantage...
posted by steambadger at 1:42 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I do believe all animals should be treated with as much dignity and respect as possible, whether we're going to eat them or not, and the way foie gras ducks are raised, even at this "humane" farm, doesn't fit the bill.

In what respect? It is true that the ducks do not choose how they ate fed. But no more so than a dog chooses, or a cow chooses. It is true that they are thereby made fatter than they otherwise would be. It is possible that they may thereby be discomforted. But on the other hand, as the article discusses, ducks in nature gorge themselves and bulk up.

The most clear possible source of harm is the feeding process, it would appear. The article goes to great lengths to suggest that though a similar procedure would cause pain and discomfort to a human, this is not the case for a duck. With what aspect of his remarks do you disagree?
posted by Diablevert at 1:46 PM on December 17, 2010


Why this would not be ethical?

Well, in the short term it would require years and years of animal experimentation, and those animals likely wouldn't actually be used for food, so it'd be expensive and, in some sense, wasteful.

One might also make the argument that just because we've bred the animals to be happy in cages doesn't mean it's ethical. For example, what if instead of breeding them to be unstressed in cages we just pumped them full of chicken morphine and chicken antianxiety drugs? No pain, no stress, but it still doesn't sit right.
posted by jedicus at 1:50 PM on December 17, 2010


For anybody who is now confused, rest assured, that whether you do or do not eat foie gras, and whether or not the production of foie gras hurts the birds, neither of these facts makes one iota of difference in any measurable way to anything in the world. So there's that, at least.
posted by eeeeeez at 1:52 PM on December 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


The video of the "duck eating a spiky fish" is actually a video of a cormorant.

Yes, and the author, in fact, points this out immediately before the video. "The closest I came is this video of a cormorant, another migratory waterfowl. Watch closely as it swallows a spiky fish several times wider than its neck." I love when people make extremely dismissive comments about something they clearly didn't even bother to read.

A lot of people seem to be just skimming the article and sharing their gut-feeling response, and missing the point that her ethical argument rests almost entirely on the fact that this is a natural process for these ducks, and that their physiology has evolved specifically to make this process painless for them. I'll quote the relevant (and totally interesting, from a biology perspective) section:
"Humans chew their food in their mouth until it breaks down into pieces small enough to swallow. Ducks, on the other hand, have no teeth in their mouth, and they don't chew. Instead, they swallow their food whole, storing it in the bottom of the esophagus in a stretchy pouch known as the crop. Eventually, the solid food works its way into a stomach and a sac-like organ called the gizzard. ...

Because of this, their esophagi are custom-built for stretching. I had Bob send a few of them to the office where I tied off one end and filled it up, water-balloon style in order to see exactly how much a duck can hold in its crop. The four we tested stretched out to a little over a quart of liquid apiece, or around 950 grams—far less than the 200 grams of meal they were fed at each serving.

Surely they'd have difficulty breathing with a tube down their throat though, right? Not so fast. Humans have a single passageway leading from their mouth down into their neck. From there, it divides into the esophagus, which leads to the stomach, and the trachea, which leads to the lungs...

Ducks, on the other hand, have completely independent tracheas and esophagi. Their esophagus goes straight from the mouth to the crop, while the trachea runs from the lungs and out the end of the tongue. That's right: Ducks breathe through their tongues. The cartilage that surrounds their trachea (called the tracheal ring) is also a complete circle, as opposed to ours, which is C-shaped, making their trachea much sturdier and less prone to collapse. What this means is that you can place a feeding tube in a duck's throat, and it can sit there indefinitely, neither gagging, nor suffocating."
posted by dialetheia at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2010


> Humans chew their food in their mouth until it breaks down into pieces small enough to swallow. Ducks, on the other hand, have no teeth in their mouth, and they don't chew.

"I'd say he eats more like a duck."
posted by Burhanistan at 2:01 PM on December 17, 2010


If, on the other hand, you see everything through a "Meat is murder!" filter, why would you even bother clicking the link? Just to get your feathers ruffled?

If I saw everything through a "meat is murder" filter, why would I not click on the link? The title was interesting, I clicked it, the article was interesting too ... though misleading. I misread it and I apologize(d) for that. I posted something (I thought relevant and interesting) to a topic about ethics I thought others would find interesting as well.

So this is, in fact, not an article advocating that eating foie gras is ethical, instead the article solely argues that foie gras is delicious (to some) and that it's no less ethical than some other forms of meat production. Cool, I get it.

I've lost no feathers over this ... actually, I didn't have any to begin with. If I did, and I could beak out a comment, it would probably be, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for pork loin!"
posted by mapinduzi at 2:34 PM on December 17, 2010


In other news, French fast food chain Quick has started serving a foie gras burger, just in time for the holidays.

The newspaper La Dépêche de Midi described it as an "ovni culinaire".
posted by gimonca at 2:56 PM on December 17, 2010


Dr. Curare: "Why this would not be ethical?"

For the same reason that drugging the public with Soma would be unethical.
posted by decathecting at 3:54 PM on December 17, 2010


mapinduzi wrote: "Why is it a different argument to be had at a different time? If he's arguing that eating foie gras is ethical, he should keep his gloves on ... "

Because some of us don't share the view that ethics demand that we not eat meat. Some of us don't consider it unethical to eat meat in the general sense, but recognize that production practices used by some farms is in fact unethical, even in a framework that allows the ethical consumption of animal-based products.

They're entirely different arguments. Many of us meat eaters were not aware that some foie gras production is, in fact, reasonable within our particular ethical framework.
posted by wierdo at 4:04 PM on December 17, 2010


hey weirdo, I've already admitted that I understand he's not, "arguing that eating foie gras is ethical." I made a mistake. Sorry. This horse is dead.
posted by mapinduzi at 4:50 PM on December 17, 2010


What in the world justifies the attention paid to foie gras production?

It's easier and cheaper than changing one's own grocery habits.
posted by desuetude at 4:56 PM on December 17, 2010


Did anyone see the TED talk about the farmer in Spain who makes foie gras without gavage? It was actually pretty cool. Basically, geese do this (overeat for the winter) naturally in the fall to some extent. This dude's geese eat a lot of olives.

A little foie gras, then some confit de canard with potatoes cooked in duck fat, ethical or not, it's a delicious meal. Heck, I cook pancakes in duck fat if I've had enough to drink. (At first, the duck fat smells a little ducky in the pan, but the pancakes themselves are delicious.)
posted by snofoam at 5:04 PM on December 17, 2010


I love TED talk - I was going to link it here but you win.
posted by device55 at 6:16 PM on December 17, 2010


That's commendable. But if I see foie gras on a menu, or at a dinner party, what's the probability that it was produced in the manner described here, and not with the cruelty and suffering and whatnot?

Not that I've researched it, but from what he says, there are only 3 foie gras producers in the U.S., and none of them are the feces-coated torture factories featured in PETA literature (though he did not personally visit those other 2 to confirm this). What I don't believe he ever stated in the article was whether or not it is legal to import fois gras from foreign producers whose standards might not be so rigorous. But here I am making assumptions: is gurple even writing from the U.S.?
posted by SixteenTons at 6:16 PM on December 17, 2010


A lot of the derisive comments in this thread are ignoring the most important word in the article: necessarily.

This article isn't concerned with whether all foie gras is ethical. Instead, it is concerned with whether all foie gras is necessarily unethical. And the answer given is, no: foie gras can be produced in a way that, given a pretty standard ethical theory, is ethical. (And, furthermore, it goes on to say that, given foie gras production in the US, it's pretty dang likely to be on the ethical side rather than not. But that's a secondary point.)

So jokes about venn diagrams, etc, are off-base. This article isn't meant to argue that it is impossible for foie gras to be produced in an unethical way. Instead, it is responding to the growing popularity of outright banning foie gras, etc, under the assumption that it is impossible for foie gras to not be unethical.

I found this really interesting. I'd just taken as granted that foie gras, by necessity, was a vile and evil practice. Now, I have evidence that maybe it isn't any worse than normal meat-consumption.
posted by meese at 7:53 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another article with similar conclusions from The Village Voice in early 2009: http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-02-18/news/is-foie-gras-torture/
posted by knoyers at 7:59 PM on December 17, 2010


Really interesting article. Whatever you think of the argument and conclusions, it's important to have information about meat farming practices, and this article taught me a lot.
posted by painquale at 8:34 PM on December 17, 2010


Honestly, I think what all the foie gras debates seem to pass over is that ducks are vicious rapists who deserve to die in agony.

No, see, it's pronounced an-ALrapist, combination analyst and therapist.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:53 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am a vegetarian (for ethical reasons) and I have force fed a duck.

The duck was a patient at a rather eccentric veterinary practice I worked at a few years ago. He was a well-loved family pet that was no longer eating and his owners wanted to go to the ends of the earth to fix him. So while we were waiting to receive his bloodwork results it was my job to feed him via very similar means to those shown in the video. At first I was aghast. I was definitely thinking "I have to foie gras him?!?"

But honestly he did not mind the feedings. He seemed ten times more stressed at being chased and cornered for it than for the actual feeding itself. That he tolerated very well.

My problem here is much more so with the husbandry of these animals. You know what I didn't see in their enclosure? Water. You know, for a duck. To swim in. Also sunlight. Or an interesting environment. I understand that the owners of the farm do not want to use antibiotics, but surely there is a way to give these animals sunlight. Sunlight does not carry disease.

I'm not sure what my point is here. I guess it's that gavage is not much crueler than any other factory farming process. If you don't see anything wrong with keeping ducks in sunless, grassless, waterless pens then there is no reason that foie gras is any more morally unacceptable than other meat or dairy product. I just sort of wish people might see keeping ducks in sunless, grassless, waterless pens as morally unacceptable. Or at the very least, less than ideal.
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:54 PM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm glad we are entering an era where meat-eating needs defense rather than vegetarianism.
posted by DU at 6:42 PM on December 17


The fact that some people offer defences of a thing does not by itself mean that the thing needs defence.

I wish I could care more about ducks and meat-providing animals than I do, but it seems I can't do that and remain honest at the same time. Possibly this makes me a bad person, but there it is. I guess I'll just have to own that.
posted by Decani at 4:45 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what I didn't see in their enclosure? Water. You know, for a duck. To swim in. Also sunlight. Or an interesting environment.

I don't disagree with the gist of your comment, but at "interesting environment" I think maybe you're anthropomorphizing the ducks. I mean, maybe emulating their natural environment is generally good, but no one's going to keep a fox in their barn just to keep things exciting for the chickens. I think it's probably really hard to say what ducks find interesting, or what interesting even means to a duck, if anything.
posted by snofoam at 5:05 AM on December 18, 2010


Foie gras has always been an easy target because it seems rarefied, something only French people consume at high end restaurants.

It really should be renamed as Extra Fat Duck Fat! and smeared on burgers. As for its provenance, it is not really French or new but is instead something that the ancient Egyptians were eating.
posted by vacapinta at 1:00 PM on December 18, 2010


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