Kirkus Reviews QR Code


How A 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight

by Mark Caro

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5668-8
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Evenhanded study of the controversy over how foie gras is produced.

When Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter quietly stopped serving foie gras in 2002, convinced by the campaign against the time-honored procedure of gavage (force feeding), he was alternately called a hypocrite and an animal-rights savior. Other chefs took up the gauntlet; activists assaulted U.S. duck liver suppliers in the Hudson Valley and Sonoma County; California and Chicago passed laws against restaurants serving it. (Chicago has since repealed its ban.) Meanwhile, the French, who produce about 80 percent and consume about 90 percent of the world’s goose and duck liver, merely shrugged. Chicago Tribune entertainment reporter Caro, to his credit, remained skeptical of the feverish rhetoric on both sides. He doggedly infiltrated rival camps and interviewed the recalcitrant operators of Philadelphia’s London Grill. He even spent quality time in the Périgord region of France, consuming massive quantities of foie gras while slyly examining the force-feeding process. He found the individual cages objectionable but did not perceive widespread animal stress during cramming. Caro looks carefully at the ethical questions involved in making animals suffer for the culinary arts and suggests one answer might be transparency. If people know how their food is produced and processed, he contends, they will surely make more intelligent and humane decisions about consumption. His too-brief chapter on nonforce-fed foie gras spotlights a subject that merits further attention, as does the response to the controversy of chefs in such major foodie centers as New York and Los Angeles.

Long-winded and slightly nutty in tone, but still an intelligent, lively contribution to the growing awareness that what we eat says a lot about who we are.