Veganism, foie gras and personal choice

I received the following via email today:

Regarding Jason's letter: Just go vegan. My wife and I did it about a year ago, and it's one of the best decisions we've ever made.

I will admit to being upset and thrown off about what and how to eat after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. But my distress is not limited to meat but to how all the food we consume is produced, including vegetables. Sure if I'm troubled by meat production, I could "just" remove it from my diet. But do I remove fruits and vegetables and grains as well because I'm concerned about pesticides and pollution and monocultures? I'd be pretty skinny if I followed that diet!

I have been a vegetarian three times, the final most severe phase of which occurred from 1998-2002. During that stint I forsook all dairy products, all eggs, and all meat. I was almost vegan (AV) except that I couldn't give up fish and ate a four to five servings of it a week. This was not because I thought fish had less feelings than cows or pigs, I simply enjoyed fish too much to give it up. Giving up the other foods hadn't felt like much of a sacrifice. The decision to go AV was based on a dislike of meat initially. I dropped the dairy when I realized soy would give me more protein with less fat. And eggs had always grossed me out. It was not a moral decision.

In 2002, a visit to the French Laundry and a torchon of foie gras precipitated a rapid and total collapse of my almost-veganism. I haven't looked back and I don't want to. Being an AV created a very contentious relationship between me and my food. Eating was rarely fun or pleasurable. It was always a series of questions and compromises, trying to find something on a menu that would work when I was out, a frozen Amy's vegan pizza at home.

Since my return to meat, I've learned more about food and garnered more pleasure from eating and sharing food with friends than I had in years. My culinary world has expanded in ways I'd never imagined — I'll actually order bone marrow and liver when I'm out to dinner. And I'm more engaged and aware of food production methods and practices than I ever was as an AV. I eat with eyes wide open, with the full knowledge that an animal was bred and slaughtered for my consumption. And I am OK with that.

This leads to what angers me about the recent foie gras bans, PETA, and animal rights activists in general. First, there's the assumption you must be eating meat because you're ignorant of where it comes from. I support efforts to educate consumers about factory farming (though I draw the line at the propaganda activists produce that utilize intellectually dishonest methods to support their "arguments") but trying to convince anyone of anything by initiating an argument with an insult isn't particularly effective.

Second, there's the moral superiority that oftentimes accompanies said argument. Great, YOU made YOUR choice because it aligned with YOUR values and beliefs. That does not mean your choice is right for me, and your condescension isn't going to convince me of anything. Keep your veggie burger, and leave me my Shake Shack.

As with everything in life, eating is a series of personal choices. The more education we have, the better choices we can make. I believe in personal responsibility and the freedom to make choices, and I don't think the government should be in the business of restricting them. Factory farms, whether they produce milk or eggs or beef or berries, are environmentally unsound and cruel. And I do not support food produced in this fashion (with I'd wager about a 95% success rate in reality). In my ideal world, everyone would be aware of the conditions under which their food is produced and we'd all purchase humanely treated meat and organic vegetables.

If state and local government want to do something to prevent animal cruelty, banning small scale foie gras production provides a minimal and questionable (many argue that foie gras birds are humanely treated and do not suffer) result. Why not legislate sunlight and fresh air requirements, or set a certain amount of square footage required for a given number of animals? Heck, enforce and update the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). But banning foie gras production has little impact on the suffering of animals in the United States. Leading producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras processes 7,000 ducks a week1. But more than 27,000,000 farmed animals are killed a day in the United States2.

Instead of forcing one's individual choices upon others, everyone should be working together to expand consumer education and improve treatment for all animals on this planet, including fellow humans. Then allow people to make decisions based on their socio-economic and religious reality, not yours.

I guess I could have just said, "Go vegan? No thanks!"

1 Anthony Ramirez, "Animal Rights Groups Ask New York to Ban Foie Gras," June 22, 2006, <> (28 June 2006)

2 Dena Jones, "Crimes Unseen," July/August 2004, <> (28 June 2006)