Faith in Foie
Paris, 4 December
The first world anti-foie gras day was a few weeks ago, on November 21. It was not noted by any French newspaper that I could find. Yet there was a demonstration in front of Fouquet’s, a renowned (and very high-end) restaurant on the Champs-Elysées, that attracted around fifty people. The animal rights group L 214 has been protesting regularly in front of Fouquet’s and other Champs-Elysées eateries including the George V, Meurice (run by chef Alain Ducasse), the Royal Monceau, the Jules Verne (in the Eiffel Tower), Lenôtre, and the Atelier of Joël Robuchon, who is possibly the most respected chef in France. The group aimed their protest particularly against a single supplier, Ernest Soulard, who they claim engages in egregiously harsh treatment of the ducks and geese that supply foie gras. The fatty liver that is foie gras is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese for a period of time, a practice known as “gavage.”
In response to the protest, Robuchon, whose restaurant empire includes 2 restaurants in Las Vegas (the eponymous Joël Robuchon there has three Michelin stars) suspended his relationship with Soulard until he finds evidence that his animals do not suffer (as a video distributed by L 214 rather graphically illustrated). Note that he did not say he would not serve foie gras.
This comes as rather a surprise in meat-happy France. Although L214 claims that 46% of French people polled oppose gavage, the website of the foie gras producers claims that 90% of French people eat foie gras, and most of the world’s supply is produced in France. Most of it is probably eaten here too, although the Montréal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon must make a substantial dent in that supply. Certainly I’ve seen little diminution of its presence on French menus (and I don’t usually eat anywhere near the Champs-Elysées). My local Monoprix has a large display of foie gras in all its various forms: raw and cooked, whole and in pieces, vacuum-packed and canned, in patés and spreads.
A recent column in the Sunday magazine of the newspaper Le Monde poured scorn on the protesters: “These moralistic crusades inspired by Anglo-Saxon puritanism only envision a sterilization, a hygienization, a standardization of food and of life itself.” Vegetarianism, as far as I can tell, has made little headway here. The French are great lovers of their pets, but they are unsentimental about food animals, although it must be said that (foie gras notwithstanding) animal husbandry in the EU is in general much less industrial than in the US, and much more tightly regulated. It will be interesting to see what happens next.