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A book tackles a hot-button topic: foie gras

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Some hot button topics are so charged there's almost no room left in them for open-minded debate. Think gun control, or abortion – or, in the food world, foie gras.

That last item, the fatty liver produced by force-fed ducks, has become a culinary sideshow in recent years, a fever-pitch clash between protesters, farmers, politicians, and restaurateurs. It's telling that it took a serious entertainment writer – Mark Caro, reporter for the Chicago Tribune – to delve as far into the controversy as anyone is likely to ever get. In his recently published book, "The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired The World's Largest Food Fight," Caro gives us a front-row seat for his intensive research into the world of foie; visiting farms and animal sanctuaries alike, educating us on political circuses, the French countryside, and the anatomy of the Moulard duck.

I asked the author if he knows why foie, hardly a common food item, has become such a flashpoint in the U.S. After all, far more people are likely to eat a factory-farmed chicken or pork chop, which carry their own controversies, than will ever indulge in a luxury restaurant dish.

There are a few parts to the answer, Caro thinks: There’s the way people relate to ducks (think Disney’s Daffy), or the anthropomorphically visceral reaction to the idea of feeding an animal through a tube down its throat.

But a large part, Caro thinks, lies in foie's very rarity. Coming out against foie gras is a way, he theorized, for people to express their discomfort with food production without dealing with the logical ramifications. A protest against the living conditions of factory-farmed chickens, for instance, might require paying more money for animal products raised in a way they consider more humane, or might lead to the lifestyle change of becoming vegetarian or vegan.


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