This morning the Tribune had a decent piece about the ineffectiveness of the foie gras ban (previously reported here and here), along with a list of nine restaurants that have received warning letters from the city for violating it. I love the refreshing frankness of the Health Department, which isn’t shy about voicing its disdain for the law to anyone who asks. “Enforcing this ban is probably our lowest priority,” spokesman Tim Hadac told me, clearly weary of talking to reporters about it.
The list of offenders is interesting. Hot Doug’s, Sweets & Savories, sure, but Connie’s? BJ’s Market? And where is this mysterious and unimaginatively named restaurant “Pizza”? My biggest question is what sort of person takes the time to rat out these places? Most weren’t trying to hide anything but now that they’ve been so publicly outed, will the anti-foie forces rally and flood the city with subsequent complaints to force fines? Maybe that would help put it all behind us, since a fine could conceivably fast-track a constitutional challenge.
Michaela DeSoucey, a PhD candidate in sociology at Northwestern, is digging into the subject a little more deeply. She’s interested in “consumption controversies” and is writing her dissertation on the foie battles in Chicago and elsewhere. Last summer she did an enviable three months of field work in France, visiting chefs, producers, and anti-foie activists, “I was trying to get to their political beliefs,” she says. “But it always turned into a cooking lesson.”
DeSoucey has witnessed gavage firsthand. It’s important for her to be objective, so she’s careful how she describes it. She never saw any ducks waddling toward the farmer when he appeared with his funnel, as some on the pro-foie side have claimed. But they never ran away either. “A lot of the anti videos and pro videos are the same,” she says. “Its a matter of interpretation and anthropomorphization. ” Still, knowing what she knows about factory farming in the U.S., “I’d much rather be a duck than a chicken.”
DeSoucey’s embarked on the Chicago phase of her research, interviewing chefs all over town, including some on the list of transgressors. Afterward she’ll move on to suss out the situation in the only two U.S. states that produce foie gras, California, where a ban will go into effect in 2012, and New York, where similar legislation is afoot. “For me the story is about how cultural authority and ideas about morality mesh together and butt heads depending on the context.”