Foie Gras…Digging Deeper

Do you ever look at an issue and think you know what the right thing to do is? But then, just as soon as you decide what is right, you waver and think, “Well, I could be misreading this and the other way is right.”

I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately. Currently, it’s with foie gras.

It’s what happens when you strive for perfection. I think knowing right from wrong is more important than perfection — and they’re not the same thing. Most everyone knows this from a young age — that perfection is impossible to achieve as a human being. Romans 3:23 tells us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory.” We can’t achieve perfection, even if we can have a decent idea of what it might look like. That’s frustrating, isn’t it? It’s like seeing a mirage in the desert when you haven’t had water for three days. You can see it, but you can never drink the water. But we can choose right over wrong a good deal of the time.

I watched a video a couple weeks ago about a foie gras farm in Canada. I found it disturbing. My first reactions was, “Never eat foie gras again!”

Then I read this article. It painted a picture of Hudson Valley Foie Gras as a humane operation.

I was confused. How can we have such terribly different versions of apparently the same thing?

I’m sure that a place like Hudson Valley Farms produces foie gras as humanely as they can. I’m sure they are the example that everyone looks up to in the business. But I feel that – just like everything else – there is a dark side of foie gras production. This includes the farms that aren’t cage free, that mistreat the birds and do things we would not be OK with. So where are the terrible pictures of inhumane treatment coming from? For one, apparently from the farm in Canada shown in the video. Additionally, according to the aforementioned article, “Some are from industrial farms in France, where individual cages are common.”

So is foie gras torture? Is it wrong to eat foie gras?

I’m still not 100% certain on my opinion…but here goes: If a place like Hudson Valley Foie Gras is as humane an operation as is written in the article (I’d like to visit it myself), then it is probably not wrong to eat its product. However, if it is a place like a caged operation in France or an apparently terrible operation like the one in the video, then I would say it is definitely wrong to eat its product. It all seems to come back to knowing where your food comes from. That’s why you hear it a lot in the news today — because it makes a difference, as you can obviously see in the production of foie gras (and just about every other animal product).

It’s worth noting that foie gras production in the United States accounted for only 1.4% of all foie gras produced worldwide. France produced 78.5% (numbers are from Wikipedia and are from 2005).

I think we have to realize what happens when we take an animal out of its natural habitat and make it conform too much to our “needs”. That’s why I am a proponent of pastured (grass-fed) beef, pastured eggs and open-air pork production. Cattle eat grass. Chickens wander around the pasture after the cattle. Pigs don’t respond well at all to confinement. We’re not asking much of these animals in return for one bad day. In fact, with the previously mentioned production methods, we’re being very respectful of the animal that we’re sending to slaughter. Being respectful is important. We need to visit the farms that produce our food (including foie gras) — be honest with ourselves — and see if we’re asking too much from the animal in order to enjoy it as food one day. If we can’t do that or we don’t trust someone else who has done the legwork, then perhaps we should abstain from that food product until we can formulate an informed opinion.

Assignment: Don’t cheat! Please read the article referenced above. Also, remember to think about where your food came from. Do you have any idea where it came from, what the conditions on the farm were for the animals? The workers? Make it a point to find out or at least get a good idea of where it came from, e.g. a small family farm or a factory farm. Seek out answers to your questions about food and then make decisions about what to purchase based on those answers.

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Does “Opting Out” Really Work?

Yes, I believe it does.

Here’s my logic:

1. I become aware that nearly all meat is produced using a factory farm model.

2. I decide that I disagree with this model.

3. I no longer purchase or consume products produced using the factory farm model.

4. Instead, I seek out respectfully produced animal products from people or places that I trust.

Why does this work? It works because we live in a country where you can vote with your dollars. You can purchase one thing instead of another and that lets businesses know what they should produce (or that they should get out of business). By not purchasing meat from “Big Meat” I’m letting them know that I won’t participate in their “system.” I guess it’s more about telling Big Meat to get out of business than it is about telling them what they should produce. You see, Big Meat is the antithesis of the fair farming future I envision. There’s no room in humane sustainable agriculture for a corporation that places profits over people nearly every time.