The Duck Stops Here.

by Jennifer Iannolo

I am compelled to address this issue openly, both as a gourmande and a citizen of the United States.   And since this issue impacts me not only personally, but as a member of the food community and the Hudson Valley, I rise in defense of an industry, and of my neighbors here — one of whom happens to be Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

I speak for myself, and in honor of the passion that has led me to choose this profession as my life’s work.  I speak for no one else.

For those in the legislature of the city of Chicago — and elsewhere around the country — intent on banning foie gras, let me make something perfectly clear:  It is not your job to tell me what I may and may not eat; nor is it your place to tell restaurants what they may or may not put on their menus.

You are allowing yourselves to be bullied by irrational sentiment, a distortion of facts, and the need to be politically correct everywhere from the boardroom to the dining room.  Here’s a suggestion: Instead of empowering ducks, why not empower your constituents to make their own choices — a right which is theirs to begin with?

If a citizen of this country is intelligent enough to enjoy fine food, then he is more than capable of investigating the facts surrounding the things he eats.  If he does not bother to do so, the onus is on him.  If a consumer chooses not to eat foie gras, it is his decision to make.  And if a chef chooses not to put it on his menu, people looking for a slice of pâté need not dine at his establishment.  Conversely, if a chef does choose to serve it, he has a right not to be harassed for that choice, and his clientele have the right not to be heckled on their way to dinner.  Those are the rights at the core of this matter, and the ones toward which you should point your proper focus.

Chefs are now presenting themselves en masse, explaining the process of gavage, and attempting to educate the public — in other words, giving their clientele the kind of information required to make their own decisions.  Your citizens do not need the Nanny State to hold their hands through the process.

I am amazed that in a country where the government cannot manage to get relief quickly enough to its own starving people in the midst of a disaster, a top-of-mind issue is whether or not ducks are being treated humanely enough.

Perhaps, ladies and gentlemen of the legislature, you might explain that to the cows and chickens as well, as they will likely want a lobby for themselves.  What’s that you say?  They cannot think, or speak?  Interesting.  And yet we, the humans at the top of the food chain, both literally and figuratively, are being told to put aside our own interests because we are violating their rights — rights they are not even capable of having.

Who — or what — is the priority here?

For me, the priority is the entrepreneurs who have put their life’s energy into creating the fine products I enjoy savoring in my life as a gastronome.  The title of this editorial, in fact, is a hearty salute to Ariane Daguin, owner of D’Artagnan, which is one of this country’s finest purveyors of foie gras and other delectibles.  My favorite dish at her former New York restaurant was called “The Duck Stops Here,” and was a plate of treats to boggle the mind.  I miss it terribly.

If you, members of the legislature, continue with your random crusades, next to go will be the importation of foie gras altogether.  Ms. Daguin, and her colleagues at Hudson Valley and Sonoma Foie Gras, will have to plan their own demise, if they are not already doing so.  Is this now the norm for how an entrepreneur is to be rewarded in the United States?   He pours his heart and soul into creating a high-quality product, and then is told by the government that he must shut down because said product is offensive to the sensibilities of some who are under no obligation to consume it?

The chefs who treat these ingredients with care and respect, and the consumers who appreciate those efforts, will be forced to give up a staple of cuisine that has been tempting the palate as long as there have been chefs to serve it.  I watched a chef just last week, ever so carefully slicing his lobe of foie gras with exactitude, so as not to mar its beauty. He had a tremendous respect for the product, and for the effort that went into creating it.  If that is going to be outlawed, what shall remain legal?

The answer worries me deeply — and makes me very, very angry.

Photo: Kelly Cline

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