Glad to see that Fortnum & Mason are having their goose cooked by our old punk heroine Souixsie Souix.
When they are held up at the end of their lives to prevent them from being soiled by their own shit and piss, you know something is wrong. We’re not talking old people’s home, but a return to the question of foie gras.
Souixsie has written on behalf of PETA to pour contempt on the grand grocer’s sales of luxury livers.
The debate about foie gras is essentially to do with the gavage; the practice of forcing food down the gullets of farmed geese. There are lots of examples of geese bred on farms in France where the birds seem to waddle happily to the farmer’s wife (they prefer women, apparently), to gorge on the corn mash, thus vastly extending their lives before being slaughtered. And there is a precedent for this in the wild, where migrating birds overfeed in order to sustain themselves across long migrations.
I’m not squeamish. I grew up on a farm and as a boy was no stranger to some of the more unpalatable habits of country life: using ferrets to decimate rabbit warrens, digging out foxes with terriers and coursing hares with lurchers. Drowning unwanted kittens and puppies was pretty normal, catching sparrows in cages only to break their necks and throwing dogs into the grain bins for gladiatorial ratting were, nauseating though they seem to me now, common sport then.
But willing or otherwise, from the most cursory inspection of the subject, foie gras is extreme food production. Naturally people get defensive and claim that it’s part of their culture and tradition. The arguments about fox-hunting and bull-fighting still rage on. Yet the same people who defend these activities would condemn bear baiting or cock-fighting.
A bit far fetched, you might think, to compare the foie gras industry with such rampant cruelty to animals (and humans). But the point still remains: if producers are going to the same lengths to extract a fattened liver from a bird for you to eat (and truthfully most of the stuff we eat is industrially produced), where else do you draw the line?
Doubtless there are foie gras farmers who love their birds (see Dan Barber’s notorious TED talk about this here), but in the end, however you look at it, we just don’t need it.
I confess to having eaten and cooked foie gras many times, and have loved it. Indeed I will never be able to make my Salad Chatelaine again. But we proved in the 1980s that seals didn’t need to be clubbed to death and that whales needed to be protected from mass slaughter. Because those arguments were won intellectually. Because most of us were able to rationalise above the over-simplistic ‘it’s what we’ve always done’ line. And as with the unsavoury rural pastimes of my youth, I’ve tried to form a principled view of my relationship with nature.
So like Souixsie I won’t be dipping into Fortnum’s on Christmas Eve any more to buy my festive lump of goose’s liver. Too bad. But quite right.