Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The foie gras lobby

On July 1st, the production and sale of foie gras will become illegal in California, a result of a state law passed back in 2004. Ed Leibowitz at The Atlantic has an entertaining story about some of the lobbying surrounding this new law. According to the article, over 100 chefs are now lobbying for the reversal of the law, and they have some effective talking points:
“Foie gras is low-hanging fruit,” [Chef Josiah] Citrin* says, in the resigned tone of someone explaining the obvious. “You think the foie gras industry has money to fight, like the beef industry?” He points out that a class barrier also keeps voters from rallying in defense of foie. “You go out in the street and ask 25 people ‘What do you think about fattened duck liver?’ and they’ll say ‘Ooh, I don’t like that.’ You don’t have to take a poll.”
Citrin has joined a coalition of more than 100 chefs lobbying for the reversal or suspension of the foie gras ban. (The coalition, which insists that it does not oppose animal rights, says it favors the humane treatment of all livestock, waterfowl included.) In a few days, many of the chefs will travel to Sacramento to lobby on foie’s behalf, and in the weeks ahead, high-end restaurants will hold foie-filled dinners to raise funds for their quixotic fight.
On the other side of the issue is the ever-quotable John Burton, the one-time lion of the state legislature and now chair of the state Democratic party:
The chefs’ coalition has warned about the ban’s potential impact on California’s high-end restaurants in a bad economy, and the state’s diminished standing in the world of haute cuisine. “California will no longer be a food destination?,” Burton said. “In other words, a guy’s sitting around and says ‘Let’s go to California. They’ve got these beautiful views. They’ve got Yosemite, the bridges, Universal City, the redwoods. Oh, shit! They don’t have foie gras! Let’s go to South Dakota.’”
Nor did he buy the argument that a restaurant could go broke without foie gras, unless that restaurant’s specialty was incredibly narrow. “If you had the House of Foie Gras, you’d be fucked,” he said.
Anyway, a great story that manages to humanize both sides of a lobbying battle, over an issue on which the vast majority of people probably don't have strong opinions and will never be affected.

*Disclosure: Citrin is a family friend.

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