A Flap over Foie Gras; Chefs-And Diners-Love the Fatty Duck Liver, but Animal-Rights Activists Are Crying Fowl at the Birds' Treatment

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerry Adler and Tara Weingarten

It was a delicacy among the Romans, and later the Jews, a substitute for the pig that helped their Christian neighbors survive the Middle Ages. To French food writer Charles Gerard, foie gras--the swollen liver of a deliberately overfed goose or duck--was "the supreme fruit of gastronomy." Seared and doused with a port-wine reduction, or baked with truffles into a terrine, it is the key to the restaurant industry's holy grail: the $20 appetizer. But to animal-rights activists, it's fur on a plate, an outrageous flaunting of humanity's dominion over other species, and at the same time a wedge issue that can usefully be wielded against the entire meat industry. Which is why, within an hour of Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation last week, an exultant e-mail went out from Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling media attention to the new pope's views on animal husbandry. In a 2002 interview, Ratzinger opined that "degrading living creatures to a commodity," specifically by force-feeding geese and confining chickens in crowded factory-farm cages, seems "to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible." So perhaps monsieur would prefer to substitute the poached leeks?

That's the hope of celebrity chef Charlie Trotter, who inadvertently helped fuel the debate when he acknowledged to the Chicago Tribune that he had stopped serving foie gras at his eponymous restaurant in 2002--one year after he published recipes for foie gras beignets, foie gras custard and foie gras ice cream in his "Meat & Game" cookbook. "I can't really justify this," said Trotter, who came to his decision after seeing ducks force-fed grain through tubes inserted down their throats. But he continues to serve every other kind of cuddly creature in creation, a position that Chicago's other notable American-French chef, Rick Tramonto of Tru, called "a little hypocritical... Either you eat animals or you don't eat animals." In a comment Trotter now says he regrets, he suggested that Tramonto's liver could go on the menu instead.

But that threat is nothing compared with what happened to Laurent Manrique of Aqua, in San Francisco; a specialty-food shop he co-owned was vandalized just before it was to open, and he was sent a video, purportedly from anti-foie gras activists, of him eating dinner at home with his family. …