TWO VIEWS • Foie gras stirs gourmands, activists over ethics of food preparation
Recently, our small business has been protested by animal rights activists who take issue with the fact that we carry foie gras, the fattened liver of a duck.
As I have met with the protesters to discuss their purposes and goals, I have been struck by the hypocrisy of their actions and philosophies. While I laud their moral convictions, I feel their efforts are misguided, and I take issue with their motivations and techniques in a number of ways.
As with any food produced for consumption, there is a broad spectrum of how foie gras ducks are raised.
While one cannot get around the fact that the ducks are force-fed, the similarities between the product we sell and the programs being portrayed by the protesters end there. There are farms that keep their birds caged, with cut beaks to facilitate feeding, and there also are operations that treat their ducks well; the ducks are allowed to roam free in walnut groves for nearly their entire lives, living in conditions far superior to that of a majority of animals raised for food. It is from this group of farms, raising animals in the most humane way possible, that we purchase our foie gras.
For their last two weeks, the ducks live in large straw-floored indoor pens where they are fed pure grain twice a day, using a funnel, replicating the natural gorging process ducks go through before migration. Ducks have no gag reflex, which enables them to use their esophagus to store food while they digest. In addition, ducks are physiologically designed to store fat in their livers and skin.
However, the protesters outside our market show pictures of ducks in small cages, being eaten alive by rats, overstuffed to the point of death. The protesters claim their goal is to educate, but is showing these gruesome images that do not represent our product educational, or is it propaganda? Many of the protesters lack a broad education of both the variety of raising practices and the businesses they target.
We support only the highest-quality farms raising their animals in the best possible way. It is through the actions of businesses like our own that change will come about in the industry. Why target a small business that is supportive of the best farms and the best animal-husbandry practices?
I find it interesting that not one of my regular customers has asked me to stop selling foie gras. A few people have approached us after being subjected to the propaganda, and after we explain our product and our philosophy to them, more often than not they become supportive of our position. It should not be the choice of a small vocal minority to make decisions for everyone.
At what point does this crusade of miseducation cease? We believe in the products we sell, and our actions are conscientiously and morally directed. Ultimately, my customers should be able to make informed decisions about what they eat. If an educated community wants to continue to purchase and consume foie gras, that should be its right.
Benjamin Dyer is a co-owner of Viande Meats & Sausage, located in Northwest Portland's City Market. He lives in Concordia.