In January, a federal judge reversed California’s ban on foie gras, the French delicacy consisting of the fattened livers of geese or ducks that have been force-fed with a tube. Predictably, the judge’s ruling incensed animal rights activists, some of whom have taken to Facebook and Yelp to denounce restaurants that serve the dish.
There are reasonable debates to be had over whether foie gras production methods are meaningfully worse than other meat production methods, whether a ban is the best way to discourage consumption of a product with unethical production methods, and whether Yelp is an appropriate platform for political statements. Unfortunately, instead of engaging in reasonable debates with protesters, chefs who serve foie gras have in recent weeks resorted to some pathetic tactics to defend their beloved liver dish.
First up was Mark Kalenderian, the chef at L.A. restaurant The Tam O’Shanter, who told one anti-foie-gras activist on Facebook, “I’d forego cooking any animal to use your disassembled corpse. I’d make a big ol’ batch of cunt stock out of your boney little frame.” Kalenderian was subsequently fired for obvious reasons—no one wants to go to a restaurant helmed by a potentially homicidal maniac.
The negative publicity his rant garnered didn’t discourage another restaurateur, Kurt Janowsky of Café Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, from speaking his mind on the matter last week. Janowsky’s open letter “to all the food terrorists out there” was in many ways better than Kalenderian’s rant—he didn’t threaten to kill anyone, for starters—but it still missed the mark. After a fairly thoughtful paragraph about how fake Yelp reviews hurt the industry, Janowsky veered into child-throwing-a-tantrum territory: “Because you have made me angry we are now going to serve foie on every menu from now on. My goal is to sell 3 times as much as we ever did before!” The “you don’t like X, so I’m going to do MORE of X” tactic has never been particularly effective in changing minds—ask any parent—and if you were predisposed to think of Janowsky as indifferent to animal suffering, this gambit surely only reinforced that opinion.
Why are some chefs so emotionally overinvested in the foie gras debate? In truth, there aren’t many solid, logical defenses of foie gras, unless you think increasing human pleasure is more important than minimizing animal suffering. Unless you’re buying foie gras made without force-feeding—yes, it exists—the best you can say about foie gras production is that it’s not any worse than factory farming. (Even this point is arguable and impossible to prove, given our ignorance of animals’ subjective experience of suffering.) Even so, I can’t help but feel that foie gras’s reputation has been sullied by its association with petulant chefs like Janowsky and Kalenderian. If the best defenses foie gras champions can come up with are death threats, name-calling, and childish rhetorical maneuvers, they’d be better off keeping quiet. After all, no one is forcing them to open their mouths.