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The California Foie Gras Ban and Morality

July 5, 2012

A few years ago, California voted to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras in the state. The ban went into effect on July 1st of this year.

This was done over the protests of many chefs, business owners, foodies, and presumably most sensible people. It was done to appease a vocal minority who believes that the way foie gras is produced is inhumane. So inhumane, that it clearly harms the moral fiber of every Californian to live in the borders of a state that allows it to be produced and sold.

In the interest of transparency. Foie Gras is a fattened goose or duck liver. It is engorged, ultimately through force-feeding, to sometimes ten times its normal size. Besides the twelve to eighteen days of force feeding the duck or goose is raised like any other farm animal. Many people will note that ducks and geese can store more food in their bodies than they digest, though I still have yet to connect whether or not this actually affects the whole force feeding issue.

Per the California ban, producers were given years to determine if there was another way to achieve the affects of foie gras without force feeding. Clearly, no such alternative method has been found. There is an alternative method that existed before the ban was voted upon, in which you just kill the goose when it achieves its fattiest state. This method however has not lead to a product on par with actual foie gras.

Also, once more in the interest of transparency. Yes, I own a restaurant where foie gras is sold. No, I do not eat foie gras. While I may have stated in the past this was for some sort of moral reason, that was just to sound better than I am. The honest answer is that I’m just not particularly fond of it, it’s never sat right in my mouth.

Now there are a lot of reasons to support the fact that this is a bad law. In fact, rather than jumping to what I want to talk about, let’s go through a quick list of why the law is a bad law.

First and foremost, no police force currently has any plans to enforce this law. Several police forces were contacted around California to determine what they intend to do for people that break this law, which would incur a $1,000 dollar fine. Not one of them has expressed a plan to combat foie gras transgressors or even an interest in actually enforcing this law. Let me state the obvious: laws that are not going to be enforced, serve no purpose.

There is no actual penalty associated with buying foie gras from another state. You can drive to Nevada and pick it up, bring it back home and eat the foie gras. You can have it delivered by courier, as long as the sale occurs in another state.

You can, in fact, buy foie gras in another state, bring it to a restaurant, and pay them to cook it for you. The restaurant is not selling you the foie gras, they’re selling you the labor that it costs for them to cook the foie gras.

Restaurants can also just give away foie gras.

If you order a cheese plate or a charcuterie plate and notice it’s ridiculously overpriced, you might quickly find that your waiter or runner brings you out a nice lobe of seared foie gras, “compliments of the chef.” Several restaurants have even suggested they might do this, and the police have said, “Okie doke.”

A law like this is senseless. It will not create revenue for the state except for when the crazy people that demanded the law be put in place, chase after restaurants and customers and determine exactly what happened when someone ate foie gras in a restaurant. The police have better things to do than worry about foie gras. While the state of California feels mighty fine atop their supposed moral high horse, farms that produced foie gras will now be shutting down, restaurants will lose revenue to people buying their own foie gras (even if they charge something similar to a corkage fee, it’s lost revenue), and people that just want to eat foie gras now must go through nonsensical steps involved with acquiring it.

Of course, this isn’t an issue of economics. This is moral. This is about the ethical codes that Californians must abide by. Foie Gras is INHUMANE!!!

A goose, is not a sentient and sapient creature. Nor, despite what you might think, is a duck.

Hard to believe, I know, but these are not beings akin to Capuchin Monkeys or Dolphins, or even many working dogs. They are waterfowl, they are not particularly intelligent, but they are particularly delicious.

Now, some might say that intelligence has nothing to do with it. That this is about how man interacts with animals, and our duty as creatures of higher intelligence to treat our lessers with respect. This is about doing what is right!

Then why is it merely the goose or the duck that we should worry about?

Is killing an animal by force feeding really any more inhumane than keeping them trapped in a cage and smashing their skull in with a sledgehammer?* Is it any worse than letting something slowly suffocate for two to three days, and then boiling it alive? Can it be worse than any permutation of raising something solely for the purpose of its eventual slaughter for no other reason than to feed someone else?

That’s the thing that people often want to shy away from when we talk about morality in regard to animals. There is no scale for the inhumanity of your actions. You don’t draw a line and go, “Everything above this line unacceptable, everything below this line acceptable.”

All animals that we eat, are capable of feeling pain. Some animals that we eat, are capable of feeling fear. There are even a rare few animals that we have eaten, or killed inadvertently while killing other animals to eat, that are intelligent creatures.

And don’t think, that this means you can just open the gates and let all the cows and pigs run free. We’ve domesticated them. Our “immorality,” as some might phrase it, started thousands of years ago, when we first penned up a wild cow and tried to raise its children. Cows, pigs, sheep, and so on, are all creatures that can’t survive without us anymore. Not just because of domestication though, but because they’re wrapped up in the same vaccination, anti-biotics horizon, medical apocalypse that the first world is in. The farm system has eliminated the option of humane treatment, because it has created a system where life for slaughter is the only possible option.

Ethical choices are not choices of convenience.

If one pays attention when they read their Kant, or any ethicist of note, they will come to realize what these ethicists realized. The ethical life is not an easy one. It is not the good life. It is the right life. Moral choices are difficult and a good man does not care if the world seems him as good, because what matters to him is not what others think but what he does.

The Foie Gras ban is merely a bunch of people who want to look like they are making good choices when in reality, all they are doing is making choices of convenience. If they actually were concerned about the treatment of animals, they wouldn’t stop at Foie Gras. They would grasp that there is no scale.

For when you create a scale, when you show that things are relative, then it becomes a matter of how each individual person feels. To me, the death of cows and pigs and geese and so on, is not something I worry about. I am not troubled by the production methods of foie gras. I do not worry if I accidentally crush a bug in my path.

Yet, I would be troubled if I hit a dog with a car. However, that is not a moral reaction. It is one based upon sentiment, because I like dogs.

This law however isn’t claiming to be based on the sentimentality of the people of California. The people of California don’t have some sort of strange, irrational attachment to ducks and geese. This is supposedly to protect their moral fiber, and it fails in that. The law fails miserably in that regard because foie gras is no more immoral than any other animal that is raised for slaughter.



*: In a show of good moral fortitude, California does have a Veal Crate Ban slated for 2013.


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