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Thursday, June 25, 2009

* FOOD BOOK OF THE MONTH! * "The Foie Gras Wars

2. THE FOIE GRAS WARS; how a 5,000-year-old delicacy inspired the
world's fiercest food fight (Simon & Schuster, 2009, 355 pages, ISBN
978-1-4165-5668-8, $35 US hard covers) is by Mark Caro, a Chicago
Tribune reporter whose writing on the foie gras controversy received
honours from the Association of Food Journalists and the James Beard
Foundation. This book is an elaboration of his reporting which began in
2005 with questions directed to Charlie Trotter. Notable log rollers
include Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain. The fattening of poultry
livers (gavage) through forced feeding is a 5,000 year old history. So
is the slaughter of the bird just for the liver, although today the
whole bird is eaten in some form. Today, it is mostly done with ducks
in France, and mainly ducks in North America. You can get "non-gavaged"
goose livers for a premium, but they won't be as fatty. Foie gras has
more flavour and smooth character, mostly because of the fat. And foie
gras is a niche market anyway. So niche that when Charlie Trotter gave
up cooking foie gras in 2002, barely anybody noticed. Yet he was the
main chef responsible for creating the foie gras craze. He had always
had it on his menu, and would go through over 60 double lobes a week.
After visiting many farms, he then became disgusted by the practice of
gavage and the unsanitary conditions. Now he is outspoken about foie
gras. Caro crafts a good read about how we all ignored what we know
about what we eat. Apparently, it is one thing to have a relationship
with a cow whose name we know, while it is another thing to deal with
mass poultry and fish and other nameless creatures. One rule to make in
order to eat all your food: don't personalize your food source. Using a
wide range of sources such as videos, court documents, personal
interviews with the players involved (chefs, animal activists, farmers,
producers, politicians, and professional eaters), government hearings
and publications, visits to foie gras farms, Caro weaves a compelling
story of the conflicts between those who believe in "names" and those
who don't. He used extensively the Google News Alerts for "foie gras"
and websites.
Audience and level of use: food memoirists, animal lovers, those who
like reading about food and not cooking.
Some interesting or unusual facts: Caro covers picket lines at
restaurants; bans enacted (and sometimes repealed) by cities and
countries; celebrity food follies; besieged duck farms; the French
gastronomic tourism extravaganza labeled "Foie Gras Weekend".
The downside to this book: Roger Ebert contributes "praise" – why?
The upside to this book: there is well-developed bibliography of books
and articles, plus a great index. This is a good expose of a nasty
Quality/Price Rating: 94.

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