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I have a rant. It's been a long time brewing.
Food consumption and preparation are my passion. I freaking looooooooooove food. I love variety, I love exoticism, I love localism....basically, I derive large amounts of pleasure from food.
But in the back of my mind, I am acutely aware that the polished facade of my grocery store is really just a fresh hide over the rancid underbelly of industrial food production. Modern, factory-scale food production, frankly, sucks. It sucks for the animals involved. It sucks for the people involved. It sucks for the land and environment involved. It's an energy-sucking behemoth rife with suffering and horror.
Yes, I'm being dramatic, but I don't know that it's possible to over-dramatize this. When you eat factory-farmed meat, you are eating pain and suffering. The cheaper the meat, the more likely the unfortunate animal involved led a short, pain-filled, manure-covered life. I realize this may bother some people, but it's the truth. And people need to know that.
I talked about this in 2007, and I'll talk about it again in 2011....the only way you can be assured that your meat led a relatively content, well-treated life is if you buy it from a farmer yourself. I.e., if you bought it at Costco, a grocery store or pretty much any chain food outlet (fast food or not), your meat was probably factory farmed.
SO...this brings me to the current target off my ire....the National Capital Commission in Ottawa. Every year in Ottawa, we make the best of our freezing winters and the city throws a huge party called Winterlude. It's awesome. Skating on the world's longest skating rink, beautiful crisp clear winter days, ice sculptures, warm comforting food, etc. It's a great time.
The short story is that the NCC invited renowned chef Martin Picard (of Au Pied de Cochon and Food Network Canada fame) to put on a gala dinner for 400-some people in Gatineau's spectacular Museum of Civilization. Tickets sold out in a matter of hours. That's how excited people were to try some of this chef's famous dishes (which often feature foie gras). Ottawa Citizen food editor Ron Eade cites that Martin Picard's Montreal restaurant is the number one consumer of foie gras in North America.
Essentially, this guy is known for foie gras and people want to eat it up. In fact, they clamoured to eat it up (me, I was not interested as a) I do not personally like the taste of foie gras, and b) I can't imagine that eating mass-prepared banquet food could possibly compare to actually eating chef-prepared food). Anyway, people were clearly excited. The demand was absolutely there.
A few days later, the NCC officially launched Winterlude on a snowy December day...I was lucky enough to be at the launch for a non-food-related work thing. In front of the Chateau Laurier (where the launch was held), were a few snowy protesters with big signs. Whatever. There are ALWAYS foie gras protestors in Ottawa. I encountered them about 18 months ago when I visited Canvas for my birthday. For the most part, they are respectful, but get their point across.
SO....you'd think that the overwhelming excitement of 400 near-instant sell-out tickets would drown out the weak mewls of these protestors. Right?
WRONG. The NCC asked Martin Picard to omit foie gras from his menu. All seemed well.
Except it wasn't. Behind the scenes, Picard, like any chef/artist with a shred of credibility and character, bowed out. If Ottawa wasn't interested in his food, the way he wanted to make it, essentially, Picard wasn't really interested in Ottawa.
I don't blame the man.
But I do blame the NCC. It is RIDICULOUS that they let a few protestors alter the focus of Winterlude's marquee event. ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.
And now I'm going to get back to the point of my rant.....this article on Serious Eats about the physiology of ducks does a great job of explaining why gavage, the practice of tube-feeding ducks and geese to fatten up their livers, is not, in fact, the worst thing that can happen to an animal. The physiology of ducks is such that they can (and do) swallow enormous things. It would make me gag. It would make you gag. Really, it would make anyone but an accomplished porn star gag. But it doesn't make a duck gag and it doesn't make a goose gag...because they are not people. Ignoring a duck's unique physiology is nothing short of anthropomorphism.
I'm not saying all foie gras ducks and geese across the entirety of the globe are well-treated. I'm absolutely sure they are not. Especially in Europe, where there is more demand, and foie gras is less of an artisanal niche product, and more of a mass-consumed product.
But here in North America? Not so much. 90 per cent of our population does not even know what foie gras IS (okay, I made the stat up....but I'll stand by it!). We are not producing foie gras on an industrial scale. To bring things back to the example at hand, according to this article, Picard takes no small amount of care when selecting the source of his foie gras.
Bottom line, these foie gras protestors are barking up the wrong tree. If they are that serious about protecting the rights of mistreated animals, why not protest Pizza Pizza or Subway as major sponsors? With the caveat that I have not personally researched these food outlets, I'd be willing to bet money that there's a whole lot more cruelty in the pepperoni on your pizza, or the turkey breast on your sub than there is in the foie gras on the select plates of those who choose to consume it.
I just don't understand the focus on a small (mostly) artisanal product when the real problem is of a MASSIVE scale. As consumers, we absolutely should be asking more questions about the origins and treatment of our food. If a merchant cannot tell us, we should take our purchasing power elsewhere.
Current regulations in Canada require that all meat be processed in a federally-inspected facility. This sounds great....unless you're a small farmer who only has a small amount of livestock. And you don't live near a slaughterhouse. So now you have to transport your formerly content livestock to a far-away abattoir. And if you try to sell (or even give away) something you slaughtered yourself. Well, you just might find yourself arrested. And no, I'm not joking.
So this is a bit of a rambly rant. But my point is that I'm ticked off that the NCC caved because of a few protesters. Foie gras is not the problem. Industrial food production is the problem.
Some reading for ya:
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation - The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
Some watching for ya:
The Meatrix (short, free, online)
And that's it for me tonight. Time to go to bed, but now that I've got this off my chest, I'll sleep well, especially knowing that I'll have some Bearbrook Farm buffalo braising in my crockpot for dinner tomorrow.