Monday, January 08, 2007

Foie Gras and me

I doubt that you would believe how much I've read about foie gras in the last few years of my life, but let me just say that it was a whole lot. For those interested and to cut to the chase, this is about the best article I've ever seen on the matter: Stuffed Animals by Jeffrey Steingarten

The longer version of this post is more biographical:


At my job, I am at core a salesperson. It is my job to sell you food (it even says so in my job title). I must admit that I enjoy selling but that throughout my life I have had an ambivalent relationship to sales. One of the key reasons for this is that my sales career started in newspaper advertising: for about five years it was my job to make whatever product was put before me seem as attractive as possible, eliminating all reference to its flaws, accentuating all reference to its strengths, as well as sell more advertising to clients. My ambivalence stemmed from the pull of how good I was at selling things versus the annoying fact that many times I didn't really believe strongly in the product and thus couldn't really say what I thought and keep my job or my clients. That ambivalence pushed me out of advertising (and, I thought, out of sales completely).

After reexamining my life goals, I realized that what I wanted to devote my time to was bringing more pleasure to people especially during their leisure time. After a circuitous route of jobs that met that description, I now find myself back in a true sales position again, yet this time I'm selling only products I strongly believe in. That just happens because the choice of product for the company I work for happens to coincide with my own personal beliefs in food--if it didn't I wouldn't have begun working there.


For about ten years I was a vegetarian. For about three of those I was a vegan. The whys and wherefores of that really aren't all that interesting and went through lots of evolution, but all stemmed from my own ethical ambivalence about the origins of my food. But because of my interest in the origins of my food and my misguided belief that there were black and white answers about what one should and should not ethically eat, I've devoted about fifteen years of my life to amateur academic research about food. A side benefit of that along the way was discovering how passionately I loved the subject and that just learning about it filled me with pleasure.

I eat meat now, but rarely, and really only to taste it, to experience a cuisine, to appreciate a style of preparation, to understand the quality; not for steady nourishment. But I do endorse, praise, and advocate for the meat sold at my employer.

And we sell foie gras.


PETA sells food. Animal rights activists sell food. They sell the negative aspects of one type and the positive aspects of another. In no case has this seemed so slanted to me than the case of foie gras.

I don't inherently dislike being persuaded. In fact, I rather like being persuaded if that persuasion is accomplished by introducing me to sides of an issue that I haven't thought about or considered or experienced. However, I do tend to react in violent backstep when I feel that someone is only presenting me with one side of an issue while pointedly avoiding acknowledging any truth to the opposing side. In other words, when I feel that I'm having done to me what I used to do to people when I worked in advertising sales.

That's why I like the article above, Stuffed Animals by Jeffrey Steingarten. It's difficult to find rational discussion about foie gras that doesn't dismiss all concerns of one side, but this article is. One paragraph that spoke to my feelings about food most was this:

Most of us are not vegans or vegetarians. When we buy the flesh of a mammal, bird, or fish in a restaurant or food shop, we are an agent in the slaughter of another living thing. We are taking life. This is a serious act, not a casual one. But our purpose is not survival or even sustenance; most of us can live comfortably without eating meat. No, our goal is pleasure, pure sensory pleasure. We chew on the succulent muscle of a steer, crunch through the crackling skin of a pig or turkey, suck out the marrow from the shin of a calf. If we are willing to kill for our pleasure, shouldn't we also be willing to force-feed ducks for our pleasure? It all depends on how much pain and distress we cause.
And then he explores pain and distress in gavage.

What I have found fascinating in all of my research about food is the finding that the less pain and less stress one causes an animal, the better that animal's flesh will taste, almost without fail [which is in remarkable contrast to the best tasting produce]. Because of that, since I work in a store that tries to sell nothing but the best tasting food, very little ethical conflict occurs.