• Posted by Califia Suntree on May 14th, 2012, 9:50 PM

    I knew something was up earlier today, when I walked past Mélisse (the haute cuisine temple whose chef raids my yard for edible weeds), and passed a small knot of tatted up, grim looking hipsters having some sort of pow-wow outside the restaurant. (Though I often exclaim like a grandmother at the parade of sloppy clothes on diners heading in for a multi-hundred dollar feast at Mélisse, the hand-knitted shawl and ripped Ts were a shade too funky, even by L.A. standards.) They hastily folded up what looked like a banner (which was, in fact, a banner) and rushed off, giving me conspiratorial glances. Next thing I know, the street is full of cop cars and TV news vans, and a full-fledged protest is going on outside. Turns out, tonight’s the night that big-shot chefs in Northern and Southern California got together to protest the upcoming statewide ban on foie gras by preparing six-course menus featuring the fatty delicacy in every course. July 1 is it for foie fanatics (though you can be sure there will be a lively trade in smuggled paté).

    The protesters inside the restaurant are Josiah Citrin, Brendan Collins (Waterloo and City), Raphael Lunetta (Jiraffe), Hiro and Lissa (Terra in Napa Valley and Ame in San Francisco), Mark Dommen (One Market in San Francisco) and Justin Wangler (Kendall Jackson in Sonoma)—along with the hundred or so dining “protesters,” shelling out $200 apiece for the “cause.” It’s a 1% “occupation”—of banquets! (For Dommen’s complete documentation of the night’s dishes, check out his Twitter feed.) The protesters outside the restaurant (protesting the chefs’ protest, savvy?) are from the Animal Protection and Rescue League, who spearheaded the statewide ban, and who are greeting the arriving diners with rather unappetizing imagery. The anti-ban protesters (Citrin et al) support the organization CHEFS, which advocates for “humane” production of foie in place of the ban, which would require hand-feeding of the ducks and put limits on how enormous their livers can be allowed to get; the group also points to the ongoing harassment of chefs by animal-rights activists. However, as CA Democratic Party chair, and author of the foie ban, John Burton noted in his recent L.A. Times op-ed on the topic, the bill was passed in ’04 in order to give foie producers almost eight years to develop more humane practices. He writes that he drafted the bill with Guillermo Gonzalez, of Sonoma Foie Gras. “Gonzalez urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature on the bill. At the time he wrote: ‘I have the moral stature to accept that if within the seven-and-a-half years established by S.B. 1520, science and government don’t arrive to the conclusion that the methods used in our foie gras production are acceptable … I will be ready to quit.'”

    The eight years are up, and unfortunately, foie farming practices haven’t changed. If producers nationwide refuse to cop to what is undeniably cruel treatment (feeding machines, prolonged and agonizing liver disease), and take action to remedy them, then bans are the only ethical option. Of course, such action must be joined by bans of other insanely cruel factory farming practices, like gestation crates (also illegal in California, among a few other states); factory farming is the real enemy, whatever forms it takes.

    Oh, also: Foie gras is an enormously overgrown, diseased, about-to-explode duck liver–ban or no ban, I’ll pass!


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