Three weeks ago the New York City Council took a bold and courageous stand on behalf of animal rights by banning the sale of foie gras. Foie gras is the much-prized goose liver paté with a creamy texture and flavor served in small portions on special occasions in France. After studying French for three months in 2004 I tested my language proficiency when purchasing it in a small specialty shop in the Dordogne. Foie gras is typically spread on a cracker or piece of bread as an appetizer before a meal. It also adds flavor to some wonderful sauces. A close friend of ours spent her childhood on a foie gras farm in Southwest France and she tells lovely stories about early life on the farm. The NYC Council’s primary reason given for banning the product cites the practice of force-feeding the geese to enlarge their livers. The ban was opposed by some New York state farmers who no longer use the force-feeding method known as gavage.
To be fair, there are many practices in modern animal farming that are deplorable and industrial foie gras operations are frightening and a far cry from the image of a flock of free-roaming geese living in the bucolic French countryside. As someone who has raised and slaughtered animals for our own table, I know first-hand the importance of honoring, respecting and caring for any animal we consume. It isn’t the intention of the ban that I find laughable so much as the shallowness of targeting a product with such little significance. Even if you embrace the symbolism of a foie gras ban, it addresses little of the greater issues. Banning foie gras was easily done with little risk of political fallout or resistance.
For “giggles and grins,” as a friend says, I crunched a few numbers to calculate how much foie gras is affected by the NYC ban. The estimates utilize figures for consumption of foie gras in France only because foie gras is so uncommon in the United States that I could not find a meaningful figure. Per capita consumption of foie gras in France is about 12 ounces/year, equal to about one gram/person/day.
New York City has roughly eight million people. Let’s assume that most foie gras is served in restaurants to curious or appreciative diners in French restaurants. Even in New York, there aren’t that many French restaurants so it would be shocking if a thousand people eat it on any given day in the Big Apple. At one thousand people eating one gram/day, foie gras consumption in NYC amounts to about 2.2 lbs every day. Allowing that my estimates could be off, let’s step it up one order of magnitude to ten thousand New Yorkers eating one gram/day. In that case, New Yorkers consume 22 pounds of foie gras each day. Now, let’s step it up another order of magnitude (remember “giggles and grins”) so even if one-hundred thousand New Yorkers eat some foie gras, say on a slice of pizza (haha!) that would amount to 222 pounds each day.
Here’s the rub, based on per capita statistics of American consumption of beef, pork (think bacon) chicken and other meat animals, New Yorkers eat millions of pounds of meat animals every day. An overwhelming percentage of these animals are raised and slaughtered in industrial meat farming operations. New York’s City Council did nothing to address that nor do I expect council members to take up a bacon, chicken nuggets or hamburger ban anytime soon.
I have little patience for anything that soothes our conscience while allowing greater affronts to be ignored. In the spirit of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I say to the NYC Council, “Give me a break and get back to dealing with something real!” And one more thing, “Bon Appétit!”