Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Live and let Liver!

There are plenty of outraged chefs and gourmands in California right now.

If you happen to be in Hollywood or San Francisco and feel like a spot of foie gras tonight, you’re in for bitter disappointment: As of couple of days ago, it’s been banned throughout the state.

(Although this is America, the land of prohibition and prohibition-evasion, so you’ll probably be able to find some somewhere. If you look around hard enough. But you’d be breaking the law.)

I'm so strong I can stop you eating Foie Gras! Nyaah!
California is a big place – if it were a country in its own right, it would be one of the most populous and prosperous in the world – and that’s what makes this newsworthy, I guess.

The ban was actually made law way back in 2004 (well done, Arnie. You really showed your Libertarian credentials there…) and reportedly came about following sustained lobbying by controversial Animal Welfare group PETA – who, as radical vegans are highly unlikely to have ever tasted foie gras.

Ah, I think we’ve found the elephant in the dining room.

Surely there’s something not quite right when people who have never eaten the stuff get to be instrumental in banning it?

Reality Check

I do eat foie gras. Very occasionally. And I’m only too aware of the cruelty issues around Gavage - the force-feeding of ducks and geese. Morally, it’s a tough one.  But I know what a tough moral issue it is, despite liking foie gras, and that should probably count for something. The foie gras we had in Budapest on our honeymoon was delicious. Yes, I know it's the diseased liver of a force-fed goose. It's still tasty. You pays your money and takes your choice.

(And anyone trying to make capital of the 'diseased' aspect would do well to remember that Quorn is made from diseased fungus!)

See, animal rights activists often posit that fois gras eaters (and indeed meat eaters in general) have their heads in the sand and wouldn't eat half of what they eat if they knew the full facts about where it comes from.

Occasionally they have a point. But usually, in reality, the exact opposite is true. People who eat Fois Gras and understand it's culinary merits are aware of the controversy surrounding it and can see both sides of the story, but vegan PETA soldiers don't have a fucking clue what it tastes like, and therefore cannot.

I might offend a few folks here, but: Vegans shouldn’t be able to ban foie gras for the same reason that straight or celibate priests shouldn’t be able to outlaw gay marriage. People who’ve never been fox-hunting shouldn’t get to decide that it’s unacceptable. Lifelong teetotallers shouldn’t be able to ban alcohol. And so on.

Now, I know that it’s possible to carry this argument to ludicrous extremes –  Why should murder be made illegal by people who have never committed a murder?!? But, crucially, there aren’t, to my knowledge, hordes of indignant killers campaigning for murder to be made legal and it would be silly if there were. (‘Fucking interfering Nanny State, won’t let me do me killing in peace!’…)

But there are lots and lots of people who like fois gras and want to carry on enjoying it legally, just as there were lots of Americans who liked a drink in the 1920s, and Britons who liked eating beef on the bone under New Labour.

So there’s something a little sad about a world where lobby groups who choose to hear only half the story get their way. All too often, these issues are reduced to politics and law, and nobody bothers to point out that really it's about food. People don’t eat foie gras because they think cruelty to fowl is good – they eat it because they enjoy the taste sensation!

Of course I’m not saying that foie gras production is all sunshine and lollipops – just that a bit of perspective is needed. In the context of food industry cruelty, it’s a tiny insignificant speck.

Take eggs. Not that many people know this, and those who do know don’t like to think about it, but the reality is that pretty much all male chicks born in egg production facilities are crushed to death in a macerator just hours after being born, because their frail lives aren’t required and this is the most cost effective solution for dealing with them.

Globally, millions, if not billions of chicks suffer this fate, and egg production is on a scale magnitudes greater than foie gras farming.

I find this far more tragic than foie gras.

And if this galline holocaust is an acceptable price to pay for indifferent omelettes and Victoria Sponges, then I’d argue that the discomfort of a relatively low number of geese to produce magnificent foie gras for very occasional consumption is also acceptable.

Two wrongs don’t make a right of course, but at the very least, we shouldn’t be hypocrites about these things.

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