foie gras

Chicago’s foie gras ban repealed

Foie gras prohibition has been repealed in Chicago, and it comes as no surprise. Mayor Richard Daley was hell-bent on defeating the ban from the get-go.

However, I originally saw the near-unanimous support for this ban among Chicago’s aldermen as an encouraging sign. I supported the campaign at the time, thinking it was an incremental step toward abolition (though I confess to having little idea what abolition really meant back then). Here we had not a regulation of animal treatment, but an outright prohibition on selling a certain kind of product derived from animals. Good news, or so it seemed. Right away, Chicago restaurateurs made a mockery out of the ban by giving foie gras away for free with the purchase of another product, or turning into “duckeasies”.

But loopholes weren’t the only problem. The fundamental flaw with this ban, as I have come to understand it, is that it was based on the cruelty of foie gras production in particular (primarily the forced feeding), as opposed to the immorality of unnecessarily using any animals as an instrumental means to our ends. In other words, this was a ban on a certain type of product, not any sort of incremental legal admission that animals deserve the right not to be used as property.

It’s actually kind of amusing to review a post a wrote in September 2006 [the post has since been deleted], as it reads almost identically to some of the letters and comments I’ve received about my “Abolitionists: Fringe or Core?” post, suggesting as it does that this anti-foie gras campaign, even if unsuccessful, would promote “a national awareness of the cruelty inherent in the modern diet, and an alteration in people’s food choices.” Well, unless the alteration we are talking about is the rise of “happy meat”, I was being awfully unrealistic.

I experienced a major shift in thinking here at AAFL a few months after this ban was passed–not all that dissimilar from when my paradigm shifted toward veganism–and I have come to reject as counterproductive measures that reduce animal advocacy to addressing certain “most egregious” cruelties and that do not strike at the root of our collective presumption that it is acceptable to use animals in the first place. Chicago’s foie gras ban is a perfect case in point. Single issue campaigns like these (and those against other “low-hanging fruit” like fur, for example) fail to change the popular view of animals because they perpetuate speciesism by implying that certain forms of exploitation are worse than others (they even suggest that foie gras would be more acceptable if forced feeding was not being used), and they typically fail to address the interest animals have in not being used instrumentally as a means to our ends.

In reality, a wide array of animal uses cause unnecessary harm, and of course all animal advocates know this. So why aren’t we all focused on abolitionist vegan advocacy? Apart from the political value of focusing supporters on a single campaign goal, it has also been said that such an approach is unrealistic. But we have here evidence that reductionist animal advocacy is unrealistic, seeing as how it expects to deliver animals from suffering without addressing its root causes.

Now, I don’t write this to perpetuate “infighting”, as some would suggest. I seek to critically examine what we do on behalf of animals, and to explore ways we can act that are most consistent with our beliefs and that are most effective for animals in the long-run. If we do not allow for critical thinking, then we have already lost. I mean, who do we think we’re fooling? Even the mainstream media understands the inconsistency of focusing on one form of animal exploitation over another. As Jeffrey Steingarten writes for Men’s Vogue:

When we buy the flesh of a mammal, bird, or fish in a restaurant or food shop, we are an agent in the slaughter of another living thing. We are taking life. This is a serious act, not a casual one. But our purpose is not survival or even sustenance; most of us can live comfortably without eating meat. No, our goal is pleasure, pure sensory pleasure. We chew on the succulent muscle of a steer, crunch through the crackling skin of a pig or turkey, suck out the marrow from the shin of a calf. If we are willing to kill for our pleasure, shouldn’t we also be willing to force-feed ducks for our pleasure?

Ultimately, if we want to see enough popular support for an effective, permanent ban on animal-derived consumer products, we have to shift popular opinion in favor animal rights, and that means spreading a consistent message about vegan ethics far and wide, not the message that only certain forms of animal use are bad. Only after that shift occurs will we have the broad-based support we need to promote legislation that recognizes the interests of nonhuman animals and abolishes their exploitation on the basis that unnecessarily using them for our pleasure or profit harms those interests.

The Truth About Foie Gras?

This “enlightening” piece by John Mariani in Esquire magazine leads off with:

Animal rights activists say duck liver is evil, the by-product of an abusive system. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Mariani doesn’t know what he is talking about. First of all, actual animal rights activists consider the consumption of duck liver–and all animal-derived products–to be wrong because doing so involves the totally unnecessary commodification and exploitation of another living being, not because conditions for producing foie gras are simply inhumane. Mariani is confusing rights with welfare, which is no surprise considering how many animal rights activists do the same thing.

Then the article actually gets started, spending its focus entirely on the relatively high welfare experienced by force fed captive ducks at Hudson Valley Foie Gras’ massive operation in the Catskills, where he “didn’t see any of this suffering those crazies are screaming on and on about.” Regardless of how foie gras is produced at this or any other facility (clearly not all facilities are the same), rights violations are occurring. This article conveniently forgets (or does not care) about whether the ducks have an interest in living in their natural environment, expressing natural behaviors and doing something other having their livers fattened up so they can be slaughtered as a “delicacy.”

Animal activism that fixates on welfare standards inevitably comes down to stand-offs like this one: “Hey, man, these animals are treated better than a lot of people. Get off our backs so we can get on with eating them.” Sure, the animals most people eat most of the time are treated atrociously, and the only way to make sure one avoids this cruelty is to avoid eating them. But this path does not lead to respecting animals’ rights. It implies rather that it’s acceptable to eat a hamburger (or foie gras, for that matter) if you know the “food animal” led a life comparable to your own “companion animal”, even though you’d never consider eating your companion (voila: moral schizophrenia).

“…there’s no need to feel guilty,” Mariani concludes. But he has not made that case at all. He has simply put forth another weak attempt at justifying unjust behavior by making it seem harmless (note that he doesn’t focus on the slaughter, though). He’s succeeded in making welfarism look foolish, but he has not even begun to understand animal rights.