Chris Consentino and Mark Pastore in Defense of Foie Gras

Call me late to the party, but I just stopped in to Chef Chris Consentino's site, Offal Good, to read up on what I've missed lately in the world of innards. Back in March, Consentino responded to a letter and phone call from one particularly infuriated "customer" questioning whether the celeb chef would be taking foie gras off the menu at his San Francisco restaurant, Incanto. When Consentino, an ardent defender of all things offal, responded with a "no," the angry caller informed him that he or she would be staging a protest at the restaurant. Consentino and his business partner, Mark Pastore, decided that, if said caller came to fight, foie gras would be their "Alamo." Presumably, Chef was sincerely worried that some ardent animal rights activist would quarter his ass right there on Church Street. And really, he should be.

But, in prototypical pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword fashion, Pastore decided not to duke it out on the steps in front of his restaurant. Instead, he wrote an extremely impassioned and well-thought-out letter in defense of foie gras and posted it on the Incanto website.

One of the most interesting aspects of Pastore's argument occurs before he even mentions the term foie gras. In discussing the violent and destructive tendencies inherent in consumption, Pastore, in short, equates the casualties of the food industry to the acceptable losses of modern travel:

The notion of a society accepting an unpleasant trade-off between something valued within that society and death of innocents is not exclusive to food production. It is virtually a defining characteristic of collective social order, whether among humans or other animals. Each year in the United States, for example, more than forty thousand people are killed and more than two million injured in transportation-related accidents. Yet we accept the level of violence and suffering wrought by this human activity, with little or no ongoing debate. Why? First, because vehicular travel is convenient and interwoven with our way of life. But also because our country is founded upon the notion of personal liberty, which includes freedom of movement and freedom to choose how one travels. Even when that activity carries with it the certainty that thousands of people, including innocent by-standers, will die each year directly as a result, we implicitly accept this terrible cost in exchange for the opportunity to move around fast with relatively little hindrance.  I have searched for an association of human rights activists that is protesting this senseless violence and calling for a ban on all mechanized travel.  I have not yet found one.

Using this equation as the cornerstone of his argument, Pastore then proceeds to dismantle the anti-foie gras movement by proving that eliminating questionable moral practices from food production is not really their end game. Rather, he argues their aim was to create a wedge issue virulent enough to serve as a cattle prod to sides of the frothing extremists while simultaneously being benign enough to capture the support of the truly indifferent. The result is, like fur and guns and gay marriage, the food nazis now have a banner issue to point at as they bray. And, so far, it's worked for them.

It would make far more sense for such animal rights organizations protesting foie gras to set their sights on hideously overfished tuna on their menus or farm-raised salmon. But that would take some actual work: converting the people who are content to sit in their local sushi restaurants and chow on $5 tuna rolls as they remark on what a healthy choice they've made for dinner. I have to agree with Pastore and take it another step -- people don't really want to make choices that impact their daily lives. They want to be green (for the six months that movement lasted in 2008) so long as they don't have to actually turn off the damned television or stop driving their gas-guzzling SUVs. They want to be sustainable, as long as sustainable means they can keep eating from the value meal at McDonald's and buying insta-packs of quick and easy mashed potatoes from Publix. After all, this is a world of convenience, and convenience doesn't stop where politics begin. In fact, there are plenty of ready-made ideologies to adopt, right there in your grocer's freezer.

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