I care a lot about life. I care about my life, other people and the living creatures I eat and serve. I don't take my career for granted, nor do I take the ingredients I use for granted. I am lucky enough to work with pretty pristine ingredients: well-raised animals and vegetables that are carefully grown as close as 10 miles from my restaurants. I'm lucky and fortunate. I truly care that I, and my cooks, treat our ingredients with care -- gentle handling, little waste and thoughtful, intentional preparation.
I choose to eat meat, though I was a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian from ages 15 to 30, and quit with a hamburger. I ate the whole thing. When I was 25 I decided I wanted to cook seriously for a living. I would taste what I cooked from ages 25 to 30 because I wanted to be sure what I was serving guests tasted good, but I never sat down to eat a meat-centric meal. Since then I have become an avid meat-eating aficionado. I eat a good amount of meat and love it. I believe many animals are raised for food, and I greatly appreciate the careful practice of their cultivation for human consumption. Many of us are privileged since we have the choice to make: eat meat or be vegetarian. I choose to eat meat and I am lucky; I eat high-quality meat almost all of the time.
I also eat and serve foie gras. I think foie gras is a delicious luxury ingredient and it holds importance in culinary traditions. Many people think raising ducks for foie gras production is cruel and are adamant in ceasing production. While I applaud anyone with strong convictions, what I really want you passionate reader who is enraged by the foie gras debate to consider is this: FACTORY FARMING OF CHICKEN IS A MUCH GREATER AND IMPACTFUL ISSUE THAN THE PRODUCTION OF FOIE GRAS! And, with your passion and dedication towards positive food production please, please focus your energy towards something that will make a BIG difference. U.S. factory-farmed chicken is a phenomenally greater issue to be concerned about than the great foie gras debate.
The impactful difference between foie gras and factory farmed chicken can be found in the fact that the consumption of factory-farmed chicken in the U.S. is about 22,571 times greater than the consumption of foie gras. Americans consume about 60 pounds of chicken per person per year, which comes out to about over 18,500,000,000 pounds a year. Compare that to an annual total of about 840,000 pounds of foie gras consumed in this country, which is roughly .00265 pounds per person.
With U.S. population at nearly 316 million, there are a lot of hungry bellies to feed in our country. Realistically, and unfortunately, higher-quality food is available at a higher price. Less-expensive, lower-quality meat and other groceries are most readily available at the prices the majority of Americans can afford: cheap. Chicken is the most consumed meat in the U.S. (Hyperlink: http://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/archived-content/articles/move-over-beef-americans-are-eating-more-chicken). With 18 billion pounds of chicken consumed in the U.S. annually, industrial farming is put into practice in order to increase productivity and yield. The controversy is deep, and in order to persuade you to reconsider your priority of activism, my foie gras adversary, I will list some main points. In the wake of poultry mass production it is important to consider the below:
The highly debated issue of ethical treatment of animals (animal welfare) being raised for food is defined by the U.K. Farm Animal Welfare Council with five considerations or freedoms: (1.) from hunger & thirst; (2.) from discomfort; (3.) from pain, injury or disease; (4.) to express normal behavior; (5.) from fear and distress.
In contrast to this, here in the U.S. the practice of de-beaking is prevalent in order to solve the issue of aggressive chickens fighting with one another in crowded factory farm conditions. Parts of these birds' beaks are removed to reduce the amount of damage -- or death -- they can cause to one another.
The use of hormones and antibiotics assist in the prevention and spread of disease in crowded living conditions. Although this practice assists in the mitigation of crop loss, health risks to farm workers and consumers from exposure to said chemicals, is significant. Consumers taking antibiotics when ill, after ingesting higher levels of antibiotics from eating factory-farmed chicken, receive less effectiveness from the antibiotics.
The environmental impact of factory farming includes, but is certainly not limited to, high levels of pesticides making their way into the water supply of local communities, water contamination affecting wildlife in nearby waterways and soil contamination.
Inhibition of biodiversity. Mass production of a singular breed of animal focused to produce size specifications yields animals with a higher susceptibility to disease and limits the gene pool. A limited gene pool compromises a species' adaptability when faced with future environmental issues.
The quality of factory-farmed chicken is poor. Poorly raised, stressed animals produce a low-quality product in terms of texture, flavor and nutrition.
This isn't easy stuff. For those of us who choose to eat meat we are faced with choices at every meal. What do we buy at grocery stores? What restaurants do we support? Do we eat tacos at the local taqueria where we're pretty sure the meat is not the quality we wish it was?
The foie gras issue is significant. And, from one opinionated person to the next, I applaud conviction. However there is a bigger impact to be made, a more significant fight to win and a more impactful victory to claim. Although both issues, foie gras and factory farmed chicken, are tricky and filled with passionate arguments, I urge you to get the most for your buck in choosing the battle that will greatly affect the majority of Americans. Prioritize and choose the battle that will make a greater difference.
Just a thought.