Duck!

In his new book, The Foie Gras Wars, the Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro examines the hoopla surrounding Chicago’s fiercest food fight

Mark Caro and his new book, The Foie Gras Wars
THE FOIE GRAS WARS
Simon & Schuster, $25

Q: Why does foie gras get us up in arms?
A: Most people are in a willful state of denial with regard to where their food comes from, but the image of a tube down a creature’s throat is so distasteful that you can’t help but have a visceral reaction. We imagine that tube descending down our throats—even though our biology is different from ducks’. 

Q: You mentioned to me that your goal was to cause “ethical whiplash.”
A: I want readers to feel what I felt as I was writing. Is it fair to go after foie gras if billions of other animals may be treated as badly, if not worse? Can you blame activists for focusing on foie gras if it leads people to confront larger issues? Does any argument justify dropping a tube down a duck’s esophagus to make its liver balloon to ten times its normal size? I did a lot of back-and-forth on these questions, but that process is healthy.

Q: What was it like seeing people devote their lives to this cause, then watching the city council vote without seeming to give it any thought?
A: It was an interesting lesson in how laws get passed. A committee held a couple of hearings, but the aldermen never really debated the issue. They didn’t want to commit time to a minor matter, so almost all signed off on Joe Moore’s ban to save the ducks. But it wasn’t a minor matter, as they found out. After enduring a year and a half of ridicule, much of it coming from the mayor, the aldermen decided they’d rather save their own pride, so they reversed themselves, still without examining the underlying ethical issues.

Q: Charlie Trotter comes across as a fascinating character.
A:
He’s taken a lot of grief for being consistent with a nuanced position. He said from the beginning that he doesn’t favor a ban, he doesn’t want to tell chefs what to do, but he thinks people should know what he knows. He’s a libertarian and did not want to get dragged into any government intervention. But he’s never been one to keep a strong opinion to himself.

Q: You assert that one reason people are so bothered is that ducks are adorable.
A:
Donald. Daffy. The one that quacks “Aflac!”—these ducks are cute and irascible. Name a chicken that inspires similar affection. Also, we see ducks on ponds. We see chickens as cellophane-wrapped slabs or breaded nuggets.

Q: What is the future of this issue?
A:
It’s not going away, but the inconsistency in banning foie gras production while allowing other questionable, larger-scale farming practices makes legislative action difficult. Then again, California just banned hen battery cages, veal crates, and pig gestation crates, so there is some overall movement.

Q: OK, so do you still eat foie gras?
A:
It’s not something I’m seeking out, but I haven’t personally banned it.

 

Photograph: Kendall Karmanian

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