Foie Gras and other Crimes, part 1

fg.jpgTonight, I’m going to an ‘underground foie gras dinner’ at a nice unnamed restaurant in Chicago.  Fieldwork and lawbreaking, together over appetizers.  The very fact that these dinners have been happening in Chicago since the ban went into effect in August, 2006, makes it clear that restaurant owners and customers seem downright happy to break the law*.

But wait a minute. Isn’t this the law, that incredible institution that must be respected, lest the entire society be put at risk. Or not? 

It seems in this case, an ethic of transgression is the order of the day.  The ordinance has been averted through interpretation of its wording (FG has been ordered through code words and has been ‘given away’, with the purchase of a $16 slice of bread).

The overall argument from the transgressors is that the law is dumb (Mayor Daley has repeatedly called it ‘silly’), that foie gras is a traditional and historical (and tasty) product, that is actually produced in a small-scale, artisanal manner, and that if we outlaw it, couldn’t we (and shouldn’t we) say that all mass-produced animal products should be banned from sale/manufacture, since such processes could be considered inherently cruel to animals?

Part Two of this post will happen tomorrow, with a report on tonight’s events.

* The text of the ordinance reads “All food dispensing establishments, as defined in section 4-8-010 of the Municipal Code shall prohibit the sale of foie gras.”

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9 Responses to Foie Gras and other Crimes, part 1

  1. laurabethnielsen says:

    mmm. . . the FG (another reason for you to be food girl and not food woman despite our feminist insticts) and, you need a sidekick called, “beverage boy!”

    Anyway, this may be the first admission of a crime on our blog! Hooray for us.

    Reminds me of this fascinating post at Scatterplot about ethical research.

  2. tina says:

    Also reminds me of Jeremy’s earlier musing on the Michael Vick’s arrest for dog fighting, and the resounding community repulsion of that practice. This is going to come off as smarmy, even though it’s not intended that way, but I am wondering what goes into the widely varying interpretations of what counts as cruelty to animals. Tastiness vs. cuteness? Furry vs. feather? As the norms change, there seems to be so much agreement over the dogs, but so little agreement over food animals. It’s hard to see what is at work here.

  3. geoff2o0o says:

    When the Illinois ban on the sale of foie gras was passed back in ’05, I remember wondering what was the intent of the Illinois legislature. Why take a stand against animal cruelty on this issue and in this way? I agree with tina; isn’t there a more salient and enforceable animal rights issue to champion? Legislators must have known that restaurants would clandestinely circumvent the regulation.

    It seems to me that the law cannot be enforced and as such it is a hollow, half-hearted commitment to stop animal cruelty.

  4. foodgirl says:

    tina: a good number of chefs and self-proclaimed food experts I’ve interviewed have said that the cuter the animal, the tastier it is. For what it’s worth. There is a lot at work here in terms of norm creation and breaking – one interesting animal case is the horse, which at different points in history has served as work, food, and pet. There was a huge hubbub about shutting down the DeKalb horse processing plant last year (the last horse processing plant in the Midwest, and perhaps in the country, I’m not certain).

    Geoff2000: there are a great many more issues to champion – my question is whether this is a wedge issue to the next step or a Bandaid that is supposed to stop the issue from developing further (the sacrificial lamb, pun not intended)

  5. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Do you think they sell more FG in Chicago since it was banned, or less? Did foodgirl go out for special foie gras dinners before the ban? Does transgressiveness make food taste better? Anyone ever see “The Freshman”, which starred Marlon Brando and a soon-to-be eaten Komodo dragon?

  6. laurabethnielsen says:

    OH MY GOD!!!!! I had forgotten the name of the movie, but the Freshman is the movie I was watching the day my LSAT score came in the mail. I never finished the movie (no Tivo in those days).

    Yes, FGG went before the ban and MAN does she know how to pick great places!

  7. eszter says:

    When the Illinois ban

    The Illinois ban? I thought it was a Chicago ban. Isn’t it completely legal to sell and buy fg in Evanston? I remember having it at a restaurant since the ban. So any word on how the ban has increased the patronage of certain Chicago-area restaurants?

  8. foodgirl says:

    It’s definitely a Chicago ban, not an Illinois ban. Restaurants in the suburbs have seen a doubling, if not tripling, of foie gras sales since the ban went into effect. There’s a production ban at the state level, I believe, but it’s non-consequential, since FG was never produced in the state, ever, in the first place.

    full report on the crime-ridden dinner tomorrow, but it was delicious!

  9. moflatley says:

    One of the most pressing problems in public policy in america is the failure by policy makers to prioritize issues. With escalating problems on everything from child welfare to health care to housing and civil rights it’s this kind of bone headed trivialization of the issues that ensures a lack of focus to the most pressing problems we face today. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns.

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