Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Faux Pas

Foie gras controversy hits Moscow
Activists up in arms over delicacy’s inclusion on restaurant menu; item has since been removed

Foie gras is no longer available at Moscow’s West of Paris, but not for the reasons one might think. Restaurant owner Francis Foucachon sold out of the item his first week in business. He wants local activists, who got their hands on an outdated menu earlier this week, to know their threats of protest mean nothing to him or his staff. “Here is the bottom line,” he said. “I ordered a small amount just to see if there was a demand in Moscow. It was such a huge success, we almost sold out our first night.”

Foie gras, French for fatty liver, is produced through a process of force-feeding ducks and geese until their livers become saturated with fat. Handlers insert tubes down the birds’ throats and funnel pounds of cornmeal into their stomachs several times a day.

Megan Prusynski, a local activist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, said consumption of foie gras went down in areas that provided focused education and outreach programs. With that in mind, she’s teaming with local and national groups, including Compassion Speaks at Washington State University, to organize protests in Friendship Square later this month. “There are still a lot of people out there who don’t know what foie gras is or how it’s made,” she said. “When I heard there was a restaurant in Moscow serving it, I started talking to people about doing some kind of protest to raise people’s awareness — maybe get it banned.”

More than a dozen countries, including Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Poland and Denmark, have outlawed the French delicacy. In the United States, lawmakers are proposing bans at the state and municipal levels. The California Legislature passed a phased ban last year on the production and sale of foie gras. Earlier this month, city leaders in Chicago banned the controversial item from all menus in the city.

“The people complaining about foie gras have a point,” Foucachon said. “The way the birds are being stuffed is questionable, and I do believe it’s important to treat animals humanely. I will put foie gras on my menu again when I find a producer that doesn’t engage in force feeding.”

PETA spokesman Matt Prescott said that’s a victory for animal rights, because Foucachon will never find what he’s looking for. “There are producers in the industry who say their foie gras is produced humanely, but such claims are unsubstantiated,” he said. “Investigations at every foie gras farm has uncovered incidents of sick, dead and abused animals. We’ve seen birds with holes in their throats and bloody beaks. We’ve seen farms where dead birds were dangling from wires, dripping blood on the live birds.”

Video footage and photo galleries on PETA’s Web site provide images of birds with gaping wounds, images of blood-soaked cages and buckets full of feathered corpses. “No animal should be subject to torture,” Foucachon said. “But these things they’re complaining about, I would suggest American chickens are treated far worse than the ducks and the geese. Why aren’t people writing letters and staging protests at the grocery stores and restaurants that sell chicken?” Why stop there, he asked? Foucachon suggested protests against restaurants that cook live lobsters. “This is a group that was looking for something to use against my business and they found something,” he said. “While I believe there are some valid concerns here, I’m not going to stop serving what people want. I will put foie gras on my menu again.”

Alexis Bacharach