Foie Inanity Reaches New York

(by Michael Ruhlman, guest blogger)

This morning Bourdain called my cell and said, “Ruhlman, I’ve got upsetting news.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Apparently a New Jersey politician, freshman assemblyman Michael Panter, next week will introduce a bill to ban the SALE of foie gras in and out of state.

Not only would this put out of business or force the relocation of Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan–which would be a blow to the entire tri-state area and beyond and the countless restaurants that rely on D’Artagnan for foie-based products–but it would be a dangerous encroachment on the rights of New Yorkers and New York City chefs to eat what they want and cook what they want.

The whole issue of what happens to Daguin and her highly respected company, around whom the fine dining scene has grown during the past two decades she’s been in business, is an important one that should be looked at separately.

But if the rumor is true, the foie brouhaha has reached New York in a serious way. And it’s bad. The foie issue embodies the hypocrisy and corruption of so much of how our government operates. That our public officials continue to spend their time and our dollars on this is ludicrous. If they cared about their state and their country, they would address the catastrophe of how we’re raising agri-hogs. That’s truly inhumane. We’re trashing our land and water, growing crappy food, contaminated chicken, feed lot beef and creating lakes of sewage polluted with e coli that gets on our spinach and kills our kids.

It’s a good rule to live by: don’t shit where you eat. But that’s exactly what we’re doing on a massive scale. So what do you do if you’re a local congressman? You outlaw a product that has little if any environmental impact, a product that few people buy, but that raises your stature and makes you look like a noble protector of all things cute and fuzzy.

Chicago’s been through this. Now Jersey–living up to its cliché. Chicago been a laughingstock among people throughout the country who understand the issues. Its mayor is endorsing a REPEAL of the silly law that bans foie gras sales there. An article in today’s trib describes how the pro-ban factions are struggling, in the face of widespread ridicule, not to lose ground. The city is not enforcing the ban anyway, so it’s largely symbolic. But symbols are important.

And right now, foie gras banning is becoming a symbol of ignorant politicians grandstanding on issues they scarcely understand while the real horrors of our food supply go neglected, and continued silence is bought and paid for by agribusiness lobbying.

I’ve made myself clear on this issue before: more no-nothings in government telling me what I’m allowed to eat, corrupt government ignoring the agricultural catastrophes while taking self-promoting potshots at fundamentally humane businesspeople and farmers makes me mad. If this law happens it promises the beginnings of change in the restaurant scene in New York City for the worse–this, the most diverse and dynamic restaurant city on earth. That in itself is bad. But all that such a bill would portend is truly scary.

If this bill happens we need to use its indulgent foolishness to shine more light on the real problems with our food supply. And they don’t have anything to do with foie gras.

19 thoughts on “Foie Inanity Reaches New York

  1. If at this point it’s just a rumour and not an actual bill, do some digging and find out who it is that may be offering the legislation (I assume state legislator or senator and not Member of Congress since they’re federal and couldn’t ban sales in just one state).
    Get Daguin to set up a meeeting with said legislator to start. Then get folks in the district of the legislator to write some letters/make some phone calls. I’m sure part of the reason this person is considering taking this step is that they’re hearing from people on the other side. I bet Daguin could get a local petition going, or even get customers to sign letters when they’re in the store, etc. Perhaps there’s also a way to get local restaurant owners involved–legislators are often moved by an economic angle.
    Also, it may be possible to find a legislator to oppose the bill as well. I definitely would not treat this as a done deal–seems like there’s plenty of time to fight, especially if you can get a combo of local folks and people like Bourdain involved who bring some celebrity (aka press) to the issue.
    The democratic process can be surprisingly democratic sometimes if people can take the time to get organized.

  2. It’s Michael Panter, but he’s just the co-sponsor.
    It’s Bill A3230
    Prohibits forcible feeding of ducks, geese, and other poultry for the production of foie gras; directs State Board of Agriculture and Dept. of Agriculture to establish standards for humane feeding and raising of poultry for such purposes.
    Voss, Joan M. as Primary Sponsor
    Giblin, Thomas P. as Co-Sponsor
    Panter, Michael J. as Co-Sponsor

  3. Bill, that doesn’t seem the like the same bill. The one you link to only prohibits the production of foie gras (which seems like a symbolic gesture by the state, as NJ has no commercial foie gras producers.) The bill Ruhlman mentions would prohibit the sale of foie gras, which would have far-reaching effects, as D’Artagnan (a large purveyor of foie gras, and the firm Ruhlman mentions in his post) is based in Newark, NJ. Either Ruhlman’s got some bad information or there’s another bill out there that’s much more restrictive. He says it’s to be introduced next week, so maybe it’s not online yet.

  4. The Apocalypse for New York Dining Approaches. THIS is the line which MUST NOT BE CROSSED. It’s Stalingrad. If Ariane goes down we are without hope or leadership or inspiration. She’s as central to NYC chef’s lives as the bagel or pastrami is to NYC diners. D’Artagnan is vital to nearly every fine dining restaurant in New York–and New Jersey is putting all this at peril.
    Who said “Apres moi–le deluge?”
    Well…after Ariane? And Dartagnan? I shudder to think. The mallification, the great dumbing down will win its biggest and most crushing victory and we all of us who love to eat–and to cook–will suffer.

  5. All due respect, Michael — love your books and articles — Erin has a point. I’m just sitting at a desk in Georgia and it took me 5 minutes to figure this out. Panter is just a co-idiot, let’s ensure we name all the idiots.
    Google news has 21 hits for Joan Voss and foie

  6. oops, I see Meg responded to my first comment. Yep, nothing online yet. Though an outright ban would make sense as the next step and Panter does have a lot of bills involving animal protection.
    Sorry for snapping at you, Michael.
    I’ll admit to admiring the deviousness of this bill. They can claim they’re not banning the sale of foie gras, just the force-feeding of ducks. If you can find some other way to create foie, have at it.

  7. I hope no politician in Virginia would propose a bill like that. We do have animal rights people picketing in front of a french restaurant here in Richmond,VA.

  8. Inane and insane. Politics as usual perhaps, but this does stick in my craw, so to speak. Some years back, I ran into Ariane Daguin at JFK. She was checking in cartons of NYS foie gras for the flight to Paris. I didn’t know her, but knew one of her traveling companions and we were introduced on the plane. The inevitable “coals to Newcastle” witticism followed and she explained that she was doing a dinner in Alsace, of all places, using American products. It was just one more sign of our coming of age as a nation of sophistication dining. Now there’s a movement to take us back to the stone age.
    I’m not particularly a libertarian and often support government legislation aimed at protecting humans and animals. I just don’t see the evidence that gavage, or “force feeding” if that sounds nastier, is harmful or stressful to the ducks or that it’s unethical treatment, behind all that emotional anthropomorphic propaganda. I’m starting to sound like a broken record on the subject, but I’m not taking up residence in NJ just to affect this vote. I hope my neighbors, many of whom are connoisseurs of fine dining both in NYC and at home in NJ, will take up the challenge. I hope the potential loss of jobs and loss of income from sales to NY will sway most of the NJ assembly, although Panter’s zeal seems to insulate him from both the realities of money as well as the need to be rational. I respect the former, but not the latter in a politician. Perhaps the voting public gets the elected officials it deserves. The ones I favor seem to get knocked off the ballot in the primaries and I usually get stuck with the guy I didn’t end up voting for in the end. I guess that makes me chopped liver. That’s a cruel and unethical fate.

  9. Everyone take a deep breath.
    First, a bill introduction is a far cry from bill passage. As you have already discussed, Assemblywoman Voss has introduced A-3230. It was introduced in the June. It has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing and it does not have a Senate companion.
    As all bills do, it will have to clear many hurdles before it becomes a law. There will be ample opportunity for public debate. However, now would be a good time to begin weighing with legislators and staff about the impact this legislation could have on an entire industry.

  10. Yea, I’m sure it took many hurdles to clear before people were being made into soap, buttons, and put into ovens.
    I’m only 1/4 threw culinary school and I’ve only recently gotten to try some foie that had been sitting under a heat lamp. I am spending more than a year apart from my wife for this, and when I’m done I don’t want some white guys in suits in air conditioning who eat well done steak and feed their kids happy meals deciding what I can cook.
    I don’t want other people who think they know what’s best because they won elections deciding what the next generation can or can’t eat.
    What’s next? Capping % alcohol consumption because people die in drunk driving accidents. Oh wait, they did that and people still drive under the influence. There will still be foie gras, you’ll just have to drive to Canda & get it while picking up Cuban cigars.

  11. State legislatures are the fast food of politics. If one was to assemble a list of all the dumb laws proposed by state legislators across the US, it would be grim comedy. A tiny minority (I’m looking at you, Chicago) make it into law.
    This isn’t to say that bills like this should be ignored; it’s sad that restaurateurs now need to be in the lobbying business. But I also think that they’re often introduced solely to provoke a response. What nonentity state legislator wouldn’t want the publicity of Bourdain or Keller gunning for him, when it would mean features in the papers or the local TV news?

  12. I was listening to NPR yesterday (while driving, so not sure what program), and a speaker pointed out that when e-coli was found on spinach, people were told not to eat spinach, but when it was found on ground beef not so long ago, the public was instructed simple to cook their food well. It’s all about who has the power and the lobbyists in Washington.

  13. I don’t want to take this off topic, but if I can respond to the e-coli issue, I’d note the difference in the way the consumer handles raw meat and spinach. Most consumers rarely touch the raw meat and when they do, they’re likely to wash their hands immediately. Rarely will people allow raw meat to touch the counter. If that happens, the counter is likely to be scrubbed clean quickly. Few people will immediately wash their hands after unbagging raw produce, be it spinach or other vegetable or fruit. We’ll also put the spinach down on any counter and take care only to wash off the dirt or sand. We don’t expect deadly bacteria to be present. To be more precise, the was instructed not to buy spinach, not just not to eat it because of the cross contamination risk at home. Cooked spinach is probably okay, but the trail of e-coli from contanimated spinach could be a deadly problem. In this case, it was quickly determined that contamination occurred at the source and that vast quatities had been distributed across the country. We’ve not had that wide a trail from contaminated beef, yet. For all that, you make a good point. The FDA responds better to industry concerns than to those of the consumer or small farmer. Everyone should read Michael Pollan’s “The Carnivore’s Dilemma.”

  14. Bux wrote: Everyone should read Michael Pollan’s “The Carnivore’s Dilemma.”. I think Bux actually meant, Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Or he was just making a pretty funny joke. 🙂

  15. I’m under the weather and over medicated just enough to make errors of this sort, and not to make funny jokes. Thanks Sam. At any rate, with the spinach contamination, the problems arising from how we raise our food create a dilemma for vegetarians as well as omnivores. Of course, ethical vegetarians have always been concerned about farm labor and how they are treated.
    provides some insight into how a couple of NJ legislators are thinking. Assemblywoman Joan Voss, who proposed a bill last month that would “prohibit the force feeding of ducks, geese and other poultry for the production of foie gras,” says “I don’t want to ban anything.” What kind of drugs do you have to be on to distinguish between a prohibition and a ban?

  16. Sorry about that confusing last paragraph. Click on it and you’ll get the AP story story at

  17. Friends:
    As I indicated earlier, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before the bill could become a law. Here is exhibit A from the Daily record (really an AP story) article Bux linked above:
    The chairman of the state Assembly’s Agriculture Committee said, while he “abhors the practice,” there are no farms in New Jersey that produce foie gras.
    “So at this time, I don’t think there’s any real pressing need to have the bill move forward,” said Douglas Fisher. “Obviously there are lot of issues that need to be ranked higher.”
    If Assemblyman Fisher opposes the measure, he almost certainly will not post it for a vote in committee — so the bill never even clears the first hurdle.

  18. As a big fan of D’Artagnan and a friend of Ariane I find Michael Panter a fool and certainly a man with too much time on his hands. If this is the best he can do as a member of the assembly, maybe the people of his distruct should rethink their support for him. He reminds me a lot of that other fool who was governor, Jim McGreevey.

Comments are closed.