Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chicago Repeals the Foie Gras Ban

This afternoon, the Chicago city council voted 37-6 to repeal the two-year old ban forbidding restaurants and stores to sell fatted goose liver -- foie gras. Like so many issues, this one ultimately is less about the gourmet delicacy and more about whether or not it's OK for a city to try to dictate what its citizens should or shouldn't eat.

The debate began more than two years ago when Chicago super-chef Charlie Trotter declared he'd no longer serve the controversial product in his restaurants. Many animal activists feel ducks and geese are force fed in inhumane conditions while others in the restaurant industry have observed conditions first-hand and disagree. (Compared to an average Tyson chicken, foie gras birds live an incredible life of comfort.) Others, like PETA, fought for foie gras bans as it became apparent that politicizing food could be a strong tactic in a "fight small but visible fights" strategy. They were successful on securing state-wide bans on production for California and New York set to take affect in the next few years. Led by Alderman Joe Moore and advocated by visible PETA celebrities (but not many Chicago residents), the council approved the ban in an omnibus package of other regulations and bills two years ago.

Since then, the ban has become a running joke in the food world, much to the blustering chagrin of chefs like Trotter who spoke out in favor. City officials reported that anonymous tips were a regular occurrence when foie showed up as a secret special in a restaurant. Enforcement authorities did little about it only writing a handful of tickets. The point of mockery, though, had little to do with foie gras itself, and more to do with the idea that a city council thought that a ban wouldn't be a big deal if it only a affected a gourmet few. We're not talking about transfats, something horribly detrimental to the health of a community. Foie gras is an expensive delicacy and many perceived it would only be of interest to only a few rich, fancy eaters.

In the end, it's fitting that Chicago's ban should be repealed with so little fanfare. New York and Philadelphia both tried to get their own efforts off the ground but with no luck. The foie gras issue had become far more time consuming than city fathers figured -- how could banning something so few people ate or enjoyed end up as such a controversy? You may be tired of the discussion around here, but the point is a broader one. (I'd have just as many complaints if I only talked about molecular gastronomy or Michael Carlson's food.)

Score one for the eaters today. Go to Tallent and have Dave's daily preparation of fois gras. Stop in at L'ex and have Neal sear it delicately. Or pop in to the Goose and buy a lobe whole. This is a day for food lovers to savor and enjoy. Appreciate that Chicagoans can now zoom down to Fox and Obel for their fix, legally. And be thankful that whether or not it's a food you like, it's legal to eat. This is a day to celebrate and remember we can eat freely.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As repugnant and reprehensible as I find the practice, I guess I can appreciate that one less illegal thing is good. I'm sure you all could find something I like to disapprove of! Congratulations, force-fed duck liver enjoyers!