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Trotter and Tramonto square off over Foie Gras


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I've seen Guillermo's farm and in no way believe what he is doing is cruel.

Can you tell us what you saw, Carolyn? I'd like to know.

Specifically? I saw several pens of ducks, running mostly free until their last two weeks of life. Then they are sequested for the gavage. His gavage technique is far different than the "classic" version of a hand-held funnel. His is more automated and quick. When the tube goes down the throat, the feed is inserted in just a few seconds. I saw briefly, but am going to ask Derricks to join in this discussion -- he visited it several times and wrote a piece for The Art of Eating.

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If the campaign has raised consciousness about all poultry farming why doesn't it shift its target.

It takes time for awareness to spread.

The majority of Americans want cheap chicken. They neither need nor want foie gras.

The majority of Americans can only afford cheap chickens.

It's an easy target and the forces working against foie gras will keep these targets separate.

What forces are these? Are these animal rights activists?

Your statement would imply that they would protest unacceptable conditions in foie gras farms, but will ignore or condone factory farmed poultry.

Let us take a cross section. There are PETA folks, chefs like Trotter and the average consumer like me.

#1 PETAesque activists: It is unlikely that they would protest foie gras and fail to protest factory farmed poultry in appalling conditions.

#2 People like Trotter. I assume he doesnt use Tyson chicken in his kitchens. We shall never know until he discloses. Either way.

#3. Someone like me. I would decline food that doesnt satisfy certain criteria. The question is whether I can afford to...Any idealistic stance..any moralistic stance..any value based stance can afford to exist only if one has the luxury and strength of conviction to rigidly adhere to one's closely held beliefs. I can. Many cannot.

If someone objects to foie gras, but can only afford Tyson and does not desire to give up on their cheap source of protein, it is not hypocrisy. It is merely a decision based on necessity.

Even if they can afford to buy free range poultry and still insists on picking up plastic wrapped Tyson chicken while still holding a stance against foie gras because it is 'cruel', then it is still a choice.

I'd suggest to the pro-foie gras band in the US to work with legislation, not with tactics of guilt, name calling etc. There is no law against hypocrisy. There is a law against cruelty against animals. That is why they banned production of foie gras in California.

That is the simple answer, Bux.

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Specifically? I saw several pens of ducks, running mostly free until their last two weeks of life. Then they are sequested for the gavage. His gavage technique is far different than the "classic" version of a hand-held funnel. His is more automated and quick. When the tube goes down the throat, the feed is inserted in just a few seconds. I saw briefly, but am going to ask Derricks to join in this discussion -- he visited it several times and wrote a piece for The Art of Eating.

Carolyn, I have no reason not to believe you. What happens during the last two weeks? What are their living conditions like during the last two weeks?

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Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand used to work at Trotter's for a while. Although I have no facts to base my forthcoming idea on, I personally belive that Tru came upon the Chicago dining scene after Trotter opened the doors for refined innovative cuisine in a notorious meat and potatoes town. Perhaps, Trotter has always had a little disdain towards Tramonto for opening a very similiar restaurant such as his, a little copy cat work. Just a thought.

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CT's calling RT "fat" (in so many words) is really hitting below the belt. It was certainly uncalled for after being called a "hypocrite."

CT should realize that many "larger" folk are his bread and butter. To resort to public fat jokes is arrogant, insulting to his customers, and potentially self-destructive to his livelihood.

:angry:

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Carolyn, I have no reason not to believe you. What happens during the last two weeks? What are their living conditions like during the last two weeks?

If memory serves (and this almost three or four years ago), the ducks are sequestered in smaller cages so that they don't have to be chased down for gavage (versus running freely, as before).

BTW, Derricks touched base and will be jumping in this thread this evening, after work. He toured the facility with Guillermo two or three times and quite recently.

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CT's calling RT "fat" (in so many words) is really hitting below the belt.  It was certainly uncalled for after being called a "hypocrite."

CT should realize that many "larger" folk are his bread and butter.  To resort to public fat jokes is arrogant, insulting to his customers, and potentially self-destructive to his livelihood.

:angry:

I thought maybe he was accusing him of being a lush. Don't you get a fatty liver from drinking alcohol?

Either way, I think his comments are really inappropriate and some of the worst I've ever heard from a professional in a professional situation.

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If someone objects to foie gras, but can only afford Tyson and does not desire to give up on their cheap source of protein, it is not hypocrisy. It is merely a decision based on necessity.

Even if they can afford to buy free range poultry and still insists on picking up plastic wrapped Tyson chicken while still holding a stance against foie gras because it is 'cruel', then it is still a choice.

I don't think this is a realistic situation you have outlined here. No one "can only afford Tyson chicken." There is such a thing as doing without, and I would suggest that it is entirely possible for someone to obtain an equally inexpensive source of protein without eating factory chicken. In no way is cheap chicken a necessity of life. One could easily get protein mostly from things like tofu and rice & beans and, if doing without chicken is unthinkable, eat only the occasional piece of chicken (or beef, etc.) from small family farms. Some people don't want to give up chicken for tofu and rice & beans, etc. -- but some people don't want to give up foie gras. Although chicken is much more commonly consumed, it is fundamentally no more a necessity than foie gras. Both depend on want rather than need. The only difference is that one is more expensive than the other.

I'd suggest to the pro-foie gras band in the US to work with legislation, not with tactics of guilt, name calling etc. There is no law against hypocrisy. There is a law against cruelty against animals. That is why they banned production of foie gras in California.

I don't think anyone here is arguing for cruelty to animals. At the same time, no one has sufficiently demonstrated that gavage is inherrently cruel to animals -- or any more inherrently cruel than all the other things that go along with raising animals for slaughter even in the best of circumstances. I still cannot understand why an animal who was presumably being subjected to cruel treatment would run to the person in order to be subjected to that treatment again, as ducks run to the feeder to be gorged. It has often been pointed out that stressing the ducks only leads to a lower quality liver and thus less money for the farmer, so the feeders have a real economic incentive to treat the ducks well -- and money speaks loudest of all.

Regardless, I think we should be able to agree that in all other aspects of life except for gavage, the quality of life is substantially better for ducks raised for foie gras compared to factory chickens. What is clear is that terms like "force feeding," an insufficent understanding of the physiology* and psychology of ducks, anthropomorphism and sensationalism have led people to make certain conclusions that are not fully informed -- good faith and intentions notwithstanding. Whether or not there is a law against the production of foie gras in California has no bearing on whether or not gavage is inherrently cruel to animals (it should be noted that the California law doesn't come into effect until 2012, was likely accepted as a political move by the foie gras producers to reduce immediate pressure, will likely be strongly challenged before it does go into effect).

* For example, most people think that gavage deposits the food into the duck's stomach. This is incorrect. The food is deposited into the craw, from which it is transmitted to the stomach for digestion at the duck's own pace.

--

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BLIND ITEM:

And...what did a certain supposedly non-foie-serving chef serve multiple courses of to pals Tetsuya Wakuda and Heston Blumenthal recently at his restaurant? A witness sitting nearby claims.... you guessed it!

abourdain

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I really enjoyed how trotter was running around calling everyone an idiot. I never realized the man was such a firebrand :smile:

Having said that, I must admit I really respect his position. He clearly opens himself up to a lot of derision (as seen in this thread) but if the man isn't comfortable with it, he is just not comfortable with it, and its cool that he can be honest about it.

Also, people seem to have made this assumption, but does Trotter actually use factory-farmed meat? Lots of top-end restaurants buy meat from small local farms these days, I would think it would be especially easy in a city like Chicago. I live 1.5 hours south (in rural nowhere) and I've been able to find humane sources pretty easily...as for price, well, I just eat less meat I guess.

edit: although, if bourdain's invisible friend is telling the truth...

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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I travel to Chicago once or twice a year and generally try to eat the best I can afford. Indeed Trotter DID stop serving foie gras about 3 years ago, with minimal fuss, so I believe him to be sincere.

And since then, I haven't eaten there, because, for 'special meals' I find that foie gras is an ingredient that pleases me greatly. Obviously that didn't break the bank for him and I respect his stand on a personal basis.

As for those who legislate what I can and can't eat - that's a different matter - especially if the same legislators won't tell me if I'm getting genetically modified more common foods.

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I find these endless splitting-hairs discussions about foie gras kind of silly. Either you don't mind killing animals to eat them - or you do. Like Woody Allen said (more or less) in Love and Death - I'm scheduled to be executed at 6 - it was supposed to be 5:30 but I had a great lawyer.

By the way - don't "free range" small animals like chickens ever get eaten by predators? I see little animals getting eaten alive in my back yard all the time (mostly by ospreys and other birds of prey). Robyn

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...

If memory serves (and this almost three or four years ago), the ducks are sequestered in smaller cages so that they don't have to be chased down for gavage (versus running freely, as before).

It seems to me that the foie gras producers would be well advised to open up their production techniques to greater scrutiny. Sure, there are folks who will simply never accept the idea of using animals for food, and you're never going to please them.

And yes, I understand the impulse to keep "business secrets". Not to mention the desire to avoid animal-rights activists storming the gates. But granting frequent access to the food press, restaurant professionals, etc., would go a long way toward dispelling a lot of the misapprehensions, if not the hysteria.

A lot of people seem to assume that there's cruelty involved, without any first-hand knowledge. The secretiveness of some in the FG industry can't be helping their cause.

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I'm with Robyn.

Also, in my opinon, there has to be some benefit from being on top of the food chain. I have a personal pledge that if I'm ever caught and eaten by a lion, for instance, that I'll take it with good grace and consider it payback for all the animals I've eaten in my life.

As to Trotter, this behavior doesn't surprise me. I paid through the nose to take a cooking class with him in CA several years ago and it was remarkably unpleasant.

His arrogance was overwhelming. His food was underwhelming. He'd just hopped onto that raw food bandwagon and served raw pureed squash "soup". Blech.

I can respect someone taking a position, but not the rudeness to an associate.

Stephanie Kay

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I find these endless splitting-hairs discussions about foie gras kind of silly.  Either you don't mind killing animals to eat them - or you do.

I don't think it's as simple as that. You can keep and them and kill them relatively humanely, or not. I don't mind killing animals to eat them but I certainly see the point of minimizing cruelty when feasible. Not that I'm educated enough about foie gras to pronounce on it, specifically. I don't make a habit of eating it anyway; I just don't like it enough to bother.

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Well well, it seems they are human after all and not robots being fed by some wireless uplink from a central database.

I never thought I’d live to see the day.

Perhaps after years of holding their tongues and being relegated to having their edges clipped as to fit into the square hole so that the surface can be smooth and free of cracks,

we are beginning to witness some assertion of individuality not in accordance with the unwritten laws of the non-disclosure agreement ridden world that has been created around them.

That in conjunction with the convenient pointing out of new “trends” in recent articles in the food media may possibly signal the beginning of the breakdown of the old system?

I suppose that will remain to be seen.

There may even come a day when someone in a white toque will not automatically command respect by simply wearing such a garment – regardless of whether they can toast bread or not – though I doubt I will live to see that.

As for Foie Gras, both arguments can be made on equal footing I suppose… but what is more important to look at is why it is so crucial an ingredient to those who wish to keep it.

It’s one of the “crutch” ingredients, like caviar – one of those elusive and therefore seemingly extravagant ingredients that most people feel as though they could not prepare even if they could find it, a magic wand in the bag of tricks that by it’s very appearance can justify the high price tag of a meal in the mind of a diner.

Do not be fooled - that is a huge part of this… money and class distinction. I would venture to guess much more than just about any other element involved on the “for it”side - and who knows what ulterior motive lurks within certain parts of the “against it” side.

Interesting to say the least.

BTW, for those of us who would like to order Foie Gras for their home since you can’t get it at your local grocery store – you can buy it here:

http://earthy.com/e_d_gran_viandes.htm?EDI...67b6349be7dc19e

For those of us that would not like to buy it…. then we shouldn't.

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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I've seen Guillermo's farm and in no way believe what he is doing is cruel.

Can you tell us what you saw, Carolyn? I'd like to know.

Specifically? I saw several pens of ducks, running mostly free until their last two weeks of life. Then they are sequested for the gavage. His gavage technique is far different than the "classic" version of a hand-held funnel. His is more automated and quick. When the tube goes down the throat, the feed is inserted in just a few seconds. I saw briefly, but am going to ask Derricks to join in this discussion -- he visited it several times and wrote a piece for The Art of Eating.

Carolyn's memory of Guillermo's operation (technically Eric Delmas does the ranch management) is still more or less true. The ducks live in a big open room while they're ducklings and then graduate to a field when they're teenagers. For the gavage, they're brought indoors into a low-light building that's climate controlled. Ten to twelve ducks are kept in 25(?) sq. foot pens, more or less the absolute minimum suggested by animal welfare people. For the feeding, the feeder puts a stool in the pen, grabs a duck, holds it between his legs, inserts the tube, presses a button, and four seconds later releases the duck. That's up to a pound of food in four seconds, for those who are counting.

Other random comments: Trotter has every right to not serve foie gras, but he seems most upset by battery cages, which none of the U.S. producers use. It's probably safe to assume that Label Rouge foie gras from France is raised sans battery cages; it's explicitly forbidden before gavage, but I assume most producers keep the same path.

The "traditional" form of foie gras isn't necessarily better. The ducks are handled for longer periods of time and the lossage is twice that of "modern" forms. That's still one-third of acceptable loss at other poultry farms.

Ducks in general don't come running to the feeder. Do some ducks, somewhere? Probably. But the best evidence is anecdotal and even then scant. Any comment along these lines is notably absent from most accounts of visits to farms (at least most of the ones I've read, which is probably on the order of ten to twelve). In a study that tested duck/goose willingness to voluntarily go to a gavage area, geese in general went, ducks in general didn't. (that's a simplification). So maybe geese do (indeed, most of the anecdotal evidence features geese not ducks). But here's something to consider. The ducks haven't dealt much with humans when they first come to the gavage (assuming no battery cages). It takes them several days to just not freak out when humans walk in (ducks are shy). It's hard to believe they go from that to running at the feeder in just two weeks. At any rate, even SFG's ranch manager says they don't come running at his farm.

"Fat" ducks are markedly different from "force-fed" ducks. You can fatten a duck or goose and not end up with something consumers accept as foie gras. There's a metabolic threshold that's not reached in this case. Here's the common-sense argument. Gavage is expensive. Really expensive. If you could produce foie gras without force-feeding (i.e., just by having the ducks eat more of their own accord), people would. How much of that is a demanding consumer body that won't accept lesser foie? Who knows.

Most animal rights group expend effort on all sorts of campaigns. Gourmet Cruelty is clearly focused on foie gras, but for groups like PETA and Viva!, foie gras is just one of many campaigns they run. But which ones get the press? Not the Viva! investigations of Grimaud, or their campaigns against pork factory farming (for the record, Viva!'s a pretty together group in my mind, as is the Animal Welfare Institute). No, the press only wants to touch foie gras, for probably a number of reasons. (and as Carolyn points out, I'm guilty as well)

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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Thanks for your post, Derrick. It's good to hear from someone who's actually seen the foie gras farms first-hand. (Thanks to Carolyn, too!)

There are people who believe that geese and ducks a penned in tiny cages, or even worse, nailed to the floor! (I believe that the ghastly practice was actually tried back in the eighteenth century but was abandoned due to the unsurprising fact that the fowl didn't fair too well under such conditions).

As consumers we should ask questions of where our food comes from. But I don't think that it's necessary for chefs to mount twenty-four-hour surveillance at their suppliers' farms. It should be enough that suppliers and distributors answer questions honestly. A little information goes a long way.

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There are people who believe that geese and ducks a penned in tiny cages, or even worse, nailed to the floor! (I believe that the ghastly practice was actually tried back in the eighteenth century but was abandoned due to the unsurprising fact that the fowl didn't fair too well under such conditions).

Battery cages are common enough for duck foie gras--just not in the U.S. The EU has imposed a ban on them starting in 2010 (it's slightly more complicated than that, but that's the gist). Will Trotter start carrying foie gras again then?

And yes, it used to be common to nail feet to the floor and blind the geese as well, based on a theory that parallels modern veal production--animals that move less are fatter and more tender. As you say, lo and behold that turns out not to be a good idea when the animal in question can't even be looked at wrong without producing a poor-quality foie.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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Fascinating thread. Surely someone can get to the bottom of those bizarre comments by Trotter. What's up with that?

Meanwhile, this foie gras tiff seems to miss the forest for the trees. Can anyone -- Faustian? -- respond to this paragraph by Sam?

Trotter wants to ban foie gras and refuses to use it in his restaurants?  Fine.  Well, he ought stop serving chicken and beef and lamb in his restaurants as well, unless he can demonstrate that the animals slaughtered for his restaurants have a substantially better quality of life than ducks raised for foie gras.  And hey, while we're at it, let's talk about "line caught" fish, which are dragged through the water by a hook piercing the jaw and then "drowned" to death in the air.  If Trotter thinks all the animals he served at his restaurants live "suffering free" lives, by his definition, he's sadly mistaken.  Does he suppose every piece of beef he serves came from a cow raised as the beloved pet of an Amish family until it was lulled to sleep with a reading of Charlotte's Web and then gently, lovingly killed as it dreamt of sweet clover?

This makes sense to me: since Trotter claims to want to run a restaurant that is cruelty-free, how can he go about proving this to his clients -- and, now that he's gone ballistic in the paper, to those of us who think of him as an insulting, moralistic blowhard? It's tough to make the negative case, but if you're going to stand on a soapbox, you'd better be sure it's damned sturdy.....

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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This makes sense to me: since Trotter claims to want to run a restaurant that is cruelty-free, how can he go about proving this to his clients -- and, now that he's gone ballistic in the paper, to those of us who think of him as an insulting, moralistic blowhard? It's tough to make the negative case, but if you're going to stand on a soapbox, you'd better be sure it's damned sturdy.....

I think CT's uses pretty well-raised meat, like, for instance, Chez P and TFL. In those restaurants, they'll tell you where they get the meat and you can look up the info yourself. Of course that also leads to menus that offer "Jackson Ranch Quail stuffed with Hamilton Farm Prunes and Sonoma Foie Gras on a Bed of Native American, hand-harvested wild rice and mushrooms collected by Jane Smith of Woodinville, WA" or something like that. I think that's an acceptable tactic; some (many) consumers may not care, but for those who do, they can look up the information for themselves.

Of course, calling a competing chef dumb and fat in a very public setting makes it tough to not think of him as insulting.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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This makes sense to me: since Trotter claims to want to run a restaurant that is cruelty-free, how can he go about proving this to his clients -- and, now that he's gone ballistic in the paper, to those of us who think of him as an insulting, moralistic blowhard? It's tough to make the negative case, but if you're going to stand on a soapbox, you'd better be sure it's damned sturdy.....

I think CT's uses pretty well-raised meat, like, for instance, Chez P and TFL. In those restaurants, they'll tell you where they get the meat and you can look up the info yourself. Of course that also leads to menus that offer "Jackson Ranch Quail stuffed with Hamilton Farm Prunes and Sonoma Foie Gras on a Bed of Native American, hand-harvested wild rice and mushrooms collected by Jane Smith of Woodinville, WA" or something like that. I think that's an acceptable tactic; some (many) consumers may not care, but for those who do, they can look up the information for themselves.

Good points, derricks. I appreciate your even-handedness. Maybe that soapbox is actually pretty sturdy when it comes to meat.

But I would still maintain that it's hard to prove that everything in the restaurant is cruelty-free. Sam's points about fish are good ones -- and I'll bet that a quick perusal of the larder (and the leather upholstery, and...) would turn up many products that aren't so easily cleared of moral terpitude.

Meanwhile:

Of course, calling a competing chef dumb and fat in a very public setting makes it tough to not think of him as insulting.

Well, given that he's insulted someone in the press (for, of all things, being fat!), yes, I think we can think of him as insulting without violating any rules of syllogistic logic!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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