Foie gras: torture or distraction?

I don’t really have an opinion on whether foie gras is “really” inhumane or not (I can’t imagine it’s particularly enjoyable for the geese), but this review of a new book on the subject makes a valid point:

Face facts: If you oppose foie gras, even if the only thing you’ve ever done about it is to make a dinner companion feel guilty, and you still eat conventionally raised meat, you’re a raging hypocrite and a silly one at that. The eggs you ate for breakfast, the cheese that came on top, and the bacon on the side, all of it is produced using methods more torturous than the ones employed on a good foie gras farm. Animals on a typical farm these days are confined in spaces so small they can’t turn around, much less do any of the things they’d normally do in nature. And in order to keep them at least somewhat healthy and functional despite those conditions, which tend to make them stressed and unhappy, their bodies are altered to keep them from harming themselves and their fellow animals — chickens have their beaks trimmed, pigs and cows get their tails docked.

None of that would excuse bad practices employed in the production of foie gras, if indeed any were used. But the typical farm conditions do go to a deeper point, one Caro explores thoroughly in his book: These wars are not, ultimately, about foie gras at all. They’re being waged by vegans who believe that all meat eating inevitably involves torture but who are smart enough — and disingenuous enough — to focus on a product the average person might never eat, one that can easily be portrayed as a decadent luxury enjoyed only by fat cats who could not care less about animals.

Whatever the merits of the case against foie gras (like I said: I’m agnostic), I think the focus of any movement for animal protection should be on the billions of animals who suffer on factory farms, not on a luxury item enjoyed by relatively few people.

Relatedly, HBO recently aired a documentary called Death On A Factory Farm. I haven’t seen it, and I imagine it makes for somewhat harrowing viewing, but what it depicts is likely to be far more typical than a plate of goose liver.

5 thoughts on “Foie gras: torture or distraction?

  1. It’s really quite easy. Only buy free range or organic meat, and eggs (and be willing to pay more for them, remembering why you are). Only eat foie gras when you have a real hankering for it – about once evey 5 years, in my case! The argument from battery farming holds no water, if we eat meat that is compassionately reared.

  2. This is a poor argument. To say ‘you shouldn’t be agitating against this, because something else happens which is far worse’ is bad logic. How do you know we do not also oppose the other situation? Does opposing foie gras prevent me from taking action against pig stalls and battery chickens?

    Here in the UK there is very effective and active opposition to battery production of eggs, chickens, pork and veal, and the move to more humane methods is gathering pace. And it is not necessary to be vegetarian in order to oppose poor conditions in farming. Take a look at the work of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I think maybe our different national perspectives might play a role here. Unfortunately, in the US there is not much in the way of effective opposition to factory farming (though there have been a few recent bright spots). The vast majority of the meat here is still produced under deplorable conditions. So, in that sense, to focus one’s energies on foie gras does seem a bit disproportionate.

    And it is, of course, possible (and laudable!) to oppose inhumane farming without being a vegetarian. Though I’m still not convinced that most of the “humane” alternatives available here include humane slaughtering and processing (and that doesn’t even include the way workers in those industries are treated).

  4. I found this article by a restauranteur to be especially enlightening.


    On a per-capita basis, the average American eats approximately 220 pounds of meat each year. Of that total, foie gras represents approximately four one-hundredths of an ounce per person. This is less than a smudge.
    Foie gras farmers – and those who serve it – are targeted for simple and eminently practical reasons: This is quite literally the smallest and most defenseless segment of the U.S. meat industry. There are only three producers in the U.S. Fewer than one in a hundred persons ever eat foie gras, and when they do, it is infrequently and in small amounts.

  5. Pingback: Animals, killing, and veg(etari)anism « A Thinking Reed

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