This morning I awoke to my notoriously difficult to shake habit of reaching for my phone and scrolling my facebook feed. By all accounts, my feed is full of interesting and challenging stuff in equal measure and this morning was no exception: Today I came across a posting by a friend about Foie-Gras with the caveat “This is to horrid not to share” – she wasn’t wrong.
Foie-Gras is a grotesque industrialised form of animal farming, to produce a delicacy savoured in the West as a profound eating experience. So profoundly sensuous that the roundup of views from the outpourings of food critics resemble the kind of poetic testimony you’d expect of people having some transcendental experience. The taste of Foie-Gras is ‘soul-ful’; an ‘indisputably delicious’ taste that privileged Westerner’s just can’t do without. And won’t.
The manufacturing of Foie-Gras is essentially a process whereby duck or geese are subjected to gavage, or force feeding, which makes their liver expand some 600% and which after slaughter is distributed to the tables of over-privileged food consumers the world over, who quaff with distasteful charm and an alarming arrogance about the heavenly status of this hellish commodity.
I don’t think I need to reiterate the specifics of the actual physiological harm brought about by a force feeding process, or the torturous reality of it either (enough of us have seen it’s application in humans to serve a violent and oppressive politics – that the production of Foie-Gras maps into the same matrix of oppression should be no peculiar thing). For those that need more convincing though, there are some further resources here and here.
But needless to say, the last 25 days fattening period of the birds sees the poor animals languishing in panic, in wire cages. The human reaction surely on looking at any industrialised process of animal agriculture is to feel instinctively the horror of that reality. With Foie-Gras, one empathises on such a base level with those creatures that the whole gut shifts uneasily, and the glove of our skin seems to shrink back from the heat of human-shame manifest by this abominable process.
In the short video above, one duck in particular, suffering what might be a ruptured oesophagus and broken beak, is rinsed down the front of its chest with blood and filth. I’ve tried a variety of words to impress the horror of this scene, but none of them seem to fit. But in that one trembling bird, who echoes the horror of every bird mercy to this grotesque fate before and after, there is a terrible mirror. Staring at that one duck, collapses the concepts deployed in our culture that keep us emotionally and spiritually detached from the living world around us; bringing our embodied experience as sentient beings, our biological and conscious commonality, to well up as a devastating realisation behind the eyes.
For a second, there is a glimpse of and opening to the violence that pervades our culture. Foie-Gras is a matter of taste. Taste as distinction maps onto the oppressive class structure of our society – between those who can distinguish and those who can’t, and those who have the means too and those who don’t. Quaffing about Foie-Gras has little to do with its culinary worth and everything to do with prestige and status. And it’s inexcusable that these animals are caught up in that vacuous dynamic.
The value of Foie-Gras and the sensibility to consume it only makes sense in a system profoundly ruptured from an embodied understanding of the symbiotic-reality of all life in our vast and intricate ecology. So ruptured, that all other life can be recognised only for it’s utility, and in the case of Foie-Gras – as some murky badge of honour to accompany a self-serving, unapologetic and narcissistic worldview.
This heavy delicacy of congested liver is a most profound metaphor for a perpetual ecology of anger in our society.
And it all comes at a cost I’d say, that is just to high to pay.