A cruel reality

Posted by Anita on 05.12.09 5:34 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*Bill Andronico
Andronico’s Markets Inc.
1109 Washington Avenue
Albany, CA 94706

Dear Mr. Andronico:

I have been a long-time shopper at your Irving Street store in San Francisco. Although I no longer purchase meat at the supermarket — preferring to buy my meat and eggs directly from farmers who make a point of their humane and ethical practices — I have always been very impressed by the knowledge and skill of your butchers in the past. Which is why I am stunned to read about your ill-informed, reactive policy regarding foie gras sales.

I don’t generally eat foie gras myself — I don’t care for its richness, nor its cost — but from rather extensive reading on the subject, I think it’s quite plausible that the “cruelty” of its production is overrated. On the other hand, I fully believe that standard, everyday conditions for commercial hens, pigs, cows, and other factory-farmed animals are grossly inhumane by any realistic measure.

If you and your company truly cared about animal welfare, you would stop selling battery-hen eggs and feedlot pork. Intensive factory farming is far more cruel — and thousands of times more pervasive — than the process of “force feeding” geese and ducks.

I suggest you do some additional homework about the realities of what goes into the meat, eggs, and dairy you sell before zeroing in on such an easy knee-jerk target. (The movie Food, Inc., which opens next month, might be a good starting point.) Otherwise, you run the risk of looking like a publicity-hungry hypocrite.

Bay Area, meat, shopping



Comment by Sean

Have you seen Dan Barber’s fantastic TED speech on the foie gras farmer in Spain?


It’s inspiring. And he makes the same point — if more people were aware of the cruelty that goes into factory farming, foie gras would be an afterthought at best.

Posted on 05.12.09 at 5:41PM

Comment by Jimmy Cracked Corn

While you are definitely right to say that the world’s eggs and hams come from completely cruel conditions, why exactly do you single out and attack this guy for DOING THE RIGHT THING in regards to FOIE GRAS? I read what you wrote and I still applaud him for taking this step.

Posted on 05.12.09 at 8:13PM

Comment by Anita

Sean: I hadn’t seen this yet — thanks for sharing it.

Jimmy: Because I don’t think he’s “doing the right thing” but rather exploiting the situation to get some free publicity. Or, if you want to give the benefit of the doubt, he’s being unwisely encouraged by anti-foie organizations (who were the ones who put out the press releases that brought this issue to the media). I suspect, though, that you and I going to have to agree to disagree. All of the videos of foie gras operations I’ve seen (even those filmed by anti-foie activists) look downright bucolic compared with even the most humane factory farm. The birds are usually given free range, nearly always kept in large, airy barns with lots of room to move around and behave like their natural selves. And they come willingly to be fed. Contrast this with the life of a battery chicken, or a crated sow, and I think you’ll see that the ire toward foie gras is sorely misdirected.

Posted on 05.12.09 at 8:23PM

Comment by Michele Morris

I agree with you – I think the more you delve into these issues the more you feel guilty about eating any animal products at all. I’m a HUGE meat eater, but have made my peace by buying directly from ranchers and farmers whom I trust and knowing the animals lived a good life before their ultimate sacrifice for us.

Posted on 05.12.09 at 9:40PM

Comment by Derrick Schneider

I agree with the sentiment, but my pedantic streak is kicking in.

The “come willingly to be fed” line is not entirely correct. Geese very often will. Ducks, not so much. And of course the bulk of the production is duck. There are a few good studies that talk about this, and I’ve seen it — or rather, not seen it — at Sonoma Foie Gras, where even the person in charge of feeding the ducks says that they don’t. (Or he did to me when I wrote about the issue back in 2004.)

Also, though I’ve only visited one American foie gras producer’s farm, I wouldn’t describe the gavage barn as airy. (Other parts of the lifespan: yes.) My photographer (not Melissa at the time) could barely handle it long enough to snap some pics for the article, the stench was so bad (see Sanders’ “From Here You Can’t See Paris” for a description more eloquent than I can manage). The air and temperature are closely controlled to avoid stressing the ducks, but it’s closed in and smelly. And that’s a good producer: There are plenty of commercial French/Hungarian producers who basically have factory farms for foie gras (inasmuch as one can without stressing the ducks, though of course the Mulard is favored nowadays precisely because it handles stress better, a fact that always gives me some pause).

Finally, I don’t know that the “I’d rather be a foie gras goose than a Foster’s Farms chicken” (attributed to Paula Wolfert, I think) sentiment works in our favor. Just because there are worse things out there does not make this thing good. It just makes it less bad.

On the other hand, you’re right: If you’re going to be a store owner talking the talk about animal welfare, don’t do it with a luxe product that has easy sympathy; make the hard choice and change the ingredients your customers actually buy.

The guy in Spain that Sean mentions is definitely interesting. I wrote Barber about the talk, and he says he hasn’t had a chance to cook with it. The problem with the guy in Spain is you can get a goose to stuff itself, but you won’t get what the public thinks of as foie gras. That may be a problem with our perception, which was Barber’s point back to me, which I agree with.

Posted on 05.12.09 at 11:08PM

Comment by Mary

Well done Anita. Going “anti-foie” is an overly simplistic way for proprietors to get publicity. Thanks for your open letter.

Posted on 05.13.09 at 4:41AM

Comment by lo

I’m with Mary — There are many sides to this story, and it’s not just about animal cruelty. It’s about perveyors selectively using the “animal cruelty” message to advance their own business interests.

I believe in free enterprise capitalism as much as the next guy, but let’s go about it ethically, shall we?

Thanks for this post.

Posted on 05.13.09 at 5:58AM

Comment by Tamara

Nicely written letter – well done. Anita is absolutely right to make the point that the focus of cruel and unhealthy conditions, not to mention pollution and contaminated food supply, belongs on the industrial farms. They raise more than 95% of the meat supply. That is zillions of animals. Foie gras in the thousands at most.

Posted on 05.13.09 at 10:42AM

Comment by Marie

When I eat or cook foie gras – rarely, but I love it – I admit I close my eyes and ears and mind and focus on my taste buds. We are fickle, inconsistent creatures. I agree with the letter – the man is silly. But foie gras can’t be too much for the geese. Just for us eaters.

Posted on 06.10.09 at 2:44PM

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