Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Good Foie Gras (who knew?); Bad Asparagus. And How Good/Bad Distinctions Are Seldom That Simple...

Me, communing with ducks.  A bit like Eduardo Sousa (but rest assured none of the ducks in this picture were subsequently killed for their livers)

When I was searching out items to link to on my last post I came across a couple of things that got me thinking.  Thinking among other things that the issues they raised merited rather more than just being hidden away behind embedded links, that might or might not be clicked on.  So, rather than just posting the links and passing on, and at the risk of going back over ground that you may well have covered yourself having clicked on my previous post, here are a few of my thoughts prompted by two of those linked items:

The first was this one, which I came across while searching for articles on the ethics of foie gras production, that would illuminate the issue without being too revolting – after all, I was seeking to turn people on to the delights of chicken livers, not put them off eating all together.   What I hadn’t been expecting to come across was something that made me think again about foie gras, and make me really want to try some – of admittedly a very rare and no doubt terrifyingly expensive kind (there is no indication of how and where you might be able to purchase it on the Pateria de Sousa website, let alone a pricelist).  Even if you are – not unreasonably - unwilling to have your views on foie gras modified by the example of a product you have next to no chance of ever sampling, I would still urge you to click on the link and check out Dan Barber’sfoie gras parable” – because not only is it an extraordinary and intriguing tale, entertainingly told, I have to admit that by the end I also found it genuinely moving and, although it’s a word I’m not generally wont to use, actually inspiring.  And not just in the sense that it inspired me to think again about foie gras in particular, but for what it has to say more generally about animal welfare in farming, and even food production as a whole. 

If, of all things, foie gras can be produced with such respect for the welfare of – even love for – the geese involved, and for the environment in which they, and the farmer, live, then surely there is hope for us all.  And I’m not just talking about those who hanker for guilt free foie gras, or even just about those of us who do genuinely care about the ethics of food production, but ultimately, actually, everyone, because we all depend on the farming industry to produce our food.  Even those very few people among us who don’t directly, who manage to be 100% self sufficient, do still rely on an environment profoundly affected by the farming industry. 

Further, the fact that the foie gras produced in this way is so good, not in spite of the focus of attention being on the welfare of the goose and it’s environment, but as a direct result of it, is a truly beautiful thing.  An inspiring thing.  And, I think, the thing that turns the story into a parable.

Now I’m not so naïve to believe that Eduardo Sousa’s methods can be applied across world farming; that every livestock farmer will ever have either the time or the inclination to lie down with his flocks and whisper sweet nothings in their ears; that the lives of all domesticated animals reared for meat can be made so attractive that wild members of their species voluntarily come and join them.  Nor am I likely to be convinced that foie gras, or any other part of the goose for that matter, produced by his methods is ever going to be anything other than a prohibitively expensive luxury, available only to a very few.  But still, there are wider reaching lessons to be drawn from Dan Barber’s parable, lessons that apply to all animal husbandry, to all farming. 

There’s even a lesson that applies more generally than that: a lesson about ethics generally, or perhaps more particularly about how we view the world.  Too many people, too much of the time tend to reduce all issues to black/white; right/wrong.  The real world is more complex than that, and if an issue as apparently black and white as the ethics of foie gras production (foie gras: clearly bad, on animal welfare grounds) can turn out to have such a massive grey area (some foie gras, it turns out: not just good, but the highest welfare meat product you’re ever likely to encounter…) then what does that tell us about all the other, more obviously fuzzy, areas of ethical debate, that people still tend to polarise?  Don’t polarise, that’s what – think, and think again.  Just like the veal issue.

The other link that got me thinking was this one, about the impact of asparagus farming for overseas markets in Peru.  It seems our taste for out of season asparagus is, literally, draining Peru dry.  Which just goes to illustrate that the current trend for seasonality and local produce is based on more than foodie faddism (which is not to claim that all its proponents are more than mere foodie faddists).  Although, in light of my comments in the paragraph above, one does also have to take into account the benefits of $450 million annual export revenue for a country as poor as Peru, and the 10,000 jobs the asparagus industry has created in one of the very poorest parts of that poor country.  See, it can be tricky, living in the grey areas - so I’ll leave it entirely up to you whether or not to purchase Peruvian asparagus from your local mega mart.  On balance, personally, I won’t be.

I did say I’d be writing up more things to do with chicken liver on my next post – that’ll have to wait.  In the mean time, here’s a picture to keep you going…

1 comment:

  1. Do what the Thai do with chicken livers; wooden skewer, dusting of chili, charcoal grill until pink. Just fantastic