This month, Illinois became the first inland state to pass a comprehensive ban against the trade, sale or distribution of shark fins. After the “finning” process, a shark’s body is generally discarded into the water where it dies of suffocation or is eaten by predators because it can’t move normally without fins. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium where several species of sharks are found. Illinois is the fifth state in the US to ban the “delicacy,” popular in Asia.
But another cruel delicacy banned in Chicago for a short time in 2006, remains legal. Foie gras is a delicacy that requires geese and ducks to be force fed to bloat their livers, often until they can barely walk, their throats are bloody or punctured and they struggle to breathe. Few who have viewed videos of foie gras production, widely posted on the Web, will eat it again.
A ban on restaurants serving foie gras provoked a vehement backlash from Chicago chefs who were making money off the dish. “Why should someone tell us what we can or can’t serve, buy or produce that the FDA puts its stamp on daily?” asked chef Michael Tsonton of Copperblue restaurant in Chicago. “We live in a free-market society and if people are truly offended they won’t buy it,” agreed David Richards, owner of Sweets & Savories. Even Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel ridiculed the ban and wrote, “Has City Council ﬁnally quacked?” Will undercover “quack-easies” spring up to deﬂect the cruelty issues?
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), expected to be a leading voice for animal welfare, also defends foie gras. One veterinarian AVMA delegate at 2005 hearings defended foie gras production by saying banning it could lead to resolutions against veal calves and other “production agriculture.” Don’t veterinarians take an oath to relieve animal suffering? “We cannot condemn an accepted agricultural practice on . . . emotion,” he proclaimed. At least 14 countries have banned or partially banned foie gras ….on emotion.
Chicago chefs so feared ethical issues invading their kitchens–as shark fins now have–they created a group called Chicago Chefs for Choice to ﬁght the ban and they succeeded. Restaurateurs held Foie Gras Fest fundraisers with all-foie gras menus as in–hip to be cruel.
Sweets & Savories featured a Kobe beef burger topped with foie gras pâté and seared foie gras accompanied by pumpkin ﬂan. Graham Elliot Bowles, chef at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, offered a foie gras tasting menu with a foie gras custard, mousse, brioche, vinaigrette, lollipop, and milk shake for $238 per diner. A fourth course was a terrine of foie gras snow frozen and whirred into a powder and served with kangaroo, lime, eucalyptus, and melon. Similar derisive and reactionary menus were invented by California chefs before a recent foie gras ban went into effect.
Gov. Pat Quinn and officials in the other four states banning shark fins should be commended. If we wait for people to be “truly offended” by cruel practices, shark fin will remain on the menu. So will foie gras.