It sounds like something out of the Onion: "[Williams] dined on duck three times last month. He doesn't really recall the taste, since his last helping was mixed in a soup."
Those lines were actually taken from a story by Mike Barker in The Olympian, our state capital's daily paper. State Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, recently proposed a statewide measure that would both forbid the production of foie gras and make it illegal to consume. The ban on production—a process that involves overfeeding geese and ducks so the animals' livers become bloated and abnormally fatty—is pointless, because there are no foie gras farmers in Washington state. But banning the sale and consumption of the stuff—that's serious business. They've taken your cigarettes, and now they're coming after your dinner.
I last wrote about foie gras in November 2004, when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will ban the production and sale of foie gras made via forced methods by the year 2012. (Two important details: Northern California is home to one of America's two foie gras producers, and Schwarzenegger's bill allows farmers to develop methods of humanely engorging waterfowl livers.) There is similar legislation pending in New York, where the second U.S. producer of fatty liver is located. Lawmakers and liver eaters in Illinois, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Oregon are also tug-of-warring over the issue; several European countries no longer allow force-feeding.
Here's the thing: Even if you suspect it's a catch-22, forcing farmers to find humane ways of creating foie gras is an entirely different issue than outlawing the act of eating a certain food.
A few months ago, I got an e-mail from the co-owner of a fine-dining establishment in the downtown area who was becoming aware of the growing number of citizens opposed to foie gras. (The Olympian quotes Wilfried Boutillier, who manages Maximilien at the Market; he says a group of protesters wearing duck hats recently demonstrated in front of his restaurant.) The restaurant owner was grappling with the question of whether or not to remove fatty liver from his menu before it became a problem. His customers love it, and his restaurant is known for serving it, but he didn't want any trouble. He wanted my advice; did I think foie gras would soon be eliminated from all menus—either voluntarily or by law? Were perceptions changing? Was foie gras going out of style? Should he act now and risk alienating his customers, or wait and risk being the last guy in town serving it?
I'm afraid I wasn't much help. I told him I was sure that a certain population would always continue craving and expecting foie gras, and that he should follow his heart. "Whenever we do what we think is right, we at least have that going for us," I told him. "And when we don't do what we believe is right, well, that, too, has ramifications. Sorry to make it so simple, but I think it might be a relatively simple dilemma, when it comes down to it."
It worries me, as I'm sure it does you, that Williams' measure represents another opportunity to lose a personal freedom—the freedom to solve our own simple dilemmas.
We want to help you choose wisely, whatever you're eating, and if you've been regularly reading this space, you know we want to help you make healthful choices. To that end, our searchable restaurant database now indicates restaurants that offer significant amounts of organic and all-natural products. I also want to point you in the direction of the locally created Web site www.seasonalcornucopia.com. Chef and instructor Becky Selengut, with the help of those listed on her "partners" page, has put together an excellent guide to seasonal foods. Want to know what shellfish is best in May? What herbs will come up in February? When rhubarb is in its peak season? Selengut's site makes it incredibly easy to find out.