United for traditional agriculture and freedom of the plate.
Renown Chef Anthony Bourdain Sounds Off
on the Foie Gras Debate
Fooey on Jersey's foe of foie gras
A misguided politician is debasing the state and threatening an icon of fine dining
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
BY ANTHONY BOURDAIN
New Jersey Star-Ledger
I grew up in New Jersey and recently returned there to do an episode of my television show, highlighting some of the strides my beloved home state has made in the area of food and gastronomy. Though for 30 years I've lived and worked in New York City, I thought I'd finally thrown off any ambivalence about which state to identify myself with. I was from Jersey--and proud of it.
So, ordinarily, I'd be happy to see my old stomping ground getting international attention from chefs, gastronomes, foodies and journalists in every corner of the globe.
But NOT for kicking Julia Child in the teeth.
Assemblyman Michael Panter, a Democrat from Monmouth County, says he intends to introduce a bill banning the sale of foie gras, the fattened liver of ducks (or geese), in the state. Assemblywoman Joan Voss, a Bergen County Democrat, has already proposed a law protecting New Jersey's borders from the apparently looming menace of foie gras production (of which there is none within the state). Panter would go further. His bill would put Ariane Daguin's 120-employee, New Jersey-based D'Artagnan, one of the nation's premier sellers of foie gras and other high-end foods, out of business.
In an interview with an Associated Press reporter, Panter suggested Daguin's operation subsists on "blood money" and said that "finance and economics should not take precedent over protecting living things." Panter was further quoted as saying that the eating and enjoyment of fattened livers is "a barbaric practice that has no place in any civilized society."
That's a statement students and adherents of Jewish dietary tradition -- as well as anyone familiar with the history of the Western world dating back to Roman times -- might find not only at odds with the facts but downright offensive.
What I find personally offensive is an opportunistic vegetarian assemblyman allowing his own narrow worldview of what we should or shouldn't eat to bring scorn and ridicule down on a whole state. That is what surely shall happen.
When deciding between taking on the genuinely cruel and enormously more widespread practice of battery-raised chickens (and, by extension, the "blood money"-taking fast-food industry) and beating up on the easier target of Daguin's small company, Panter might not have been aware that Ariane Daguin is one of the most widely loved, deeply respected figures in the world of fine dining.
And that nearly every multistarred chef and restaurant in New York -- and elsewhere across America -- depends heavily on her products. I'm not talking just foie gras. It should be noted that -- unlike the lurid examples of force feeding shown in some videos -- the particular variety of foie gras sold by D'Artagnan comes from waterfowl that are raised and fed humanely. Cruelly produced foie gras -- as every good chef knows -- is bad foie gras.
For over 20 years, menus in New York's best restaurants literally grew up around the previously unavailable tasty treats Daguin has been able to either import or produce.
Ariane brought us fresh truffles, white asparagus, boutique olive oils, every variety of wild game -- those lovely confits, pates and plump duck breasts now ubiquitous in every fine dining eatery. With foie gras making up 30 percent of her revenue, Daguin would likely be out of business should Panter get his way. The effect on dining as we know it in this country, and in New York in particular, would be catastrophic. And the firestorm of outrage and resentment aimed at New Jersey -- unproductive at best.
This is not, unfortunately, an unthinkable scenario. No less a city than Chicago, poised to become an international food destination, recently enacted similarly wrongheaded legislation, to hoots of derision from around the globe.
No one would be laughing should Daguin be forced to close shop. She's the mother to all who cook professionally: a friend, heroine, inspiration and role model who has helped countless chefs in countless ways since she started her business with one truck and a couple of employees. Anyone serious about cooking or who claims to truly love food in America has in one way or the other benefited from her existence and her many kindnesses.
With every kind of cruelty to humans and animals close at hand, one would hope that Panter would find a better way to get himself some attention.
If he truly has the courage of his convictions and wishes to demonstrate his zeal to protect all things winged and feathered, I suggest he put himself between the Colonel and America's voracious and ever-rising appetite for crispy fried chicken bits. He could chain himself to the front door of KFC corporate headquarters or propose legislation that would prevent his constituents from indulging themselves with McNuggets. Now that will get him on the 6 o'clocks.
Anthony Bourdain hosts a travel and food show, "No Reservations," for the Travel Channel and is the author of "Kitchen Confidential" and other books. He was a professional chef in New York City for 30 years.