I am sitting on a terrace in the shade of a vine in the South of France invited by some friends. Not the kind of like-minded buddies we mistake for friends, but the kind of neighbors you know you can count on whatever happens. The day was good, and the evening is promising. Drinking a good wine and degustating some superb foie gras. Foie gras is a divine treat. It is the liver of a fattened goose or duck. The production stems from a tradition dating almost more than 20 centuries old, and foie gras is produced by local small farms, who raise their birds with love themselves and choose the fodder with care.
It is an evening to remember: what can be more rewarding than being with friends you can trust and together enjoying superb food and wine? I have second thoughts. The “gavage” or force feeding that produces the “fat liver”, foie gras, is normally recognized as inhumane treatment.
Should I make a stand, refuse to eat, educate my friends about the ethics of foie gras consumption? Shut up and just abstain myself? Or just enjoy the food and company? How would my friends percieve my breach of the laws of hospitality? How would the greek gods judge it? The jewish god would understand, but Jesus might have second thoughts.
I don’t know what to do. Although the different values touched upon are all unequivocally important, applying them all together in a real life situation is never straightforward. It does not work to use a points system for every ethical choice: 3 points for obeying the laws of hospitality, – 5 for eating an animal inhumanely fed, but +1 for having it raised in a sustainable system and another +1 for being top quality food. I might even come out winning.
The current popular culture promotes a puritanical view of life: One issue is singled out, and declared good or evil, and people can “sin” against food prescriptions. Another Spanish Inquisition is born. The use of sugar, corn syrup, aspartame, cooked food, uncooked food, meat, fish, milk, grains, have all been declared a sin against our own health and the environment at one time. Long gone are the times when only gluttony was considered as immoral, when “not what goes into the mouth is sinful, but what comes out of it”. The vegan, the vegetarian, cave man dietist, explain the complex world of wining and dining with simple answers. And chances are, those answers don’t take taste into account.
It is clear what I should have done with the foie gras: the ethical eater is essentially an asshole, who never just can let go. Perhaps we should mostly try to be just mindful about what we eat. Prepare our meals with care, chosing the ingredients with knowledge of the different choices they imply, and transform them to a nice dinner for our loved ones. And sometimes, we should just enjoy.