Conscience comes with Christmas
It has been said that carrots scream when you pull them out of the ground. Of course one should be using a fork to loosen the soil, then gently shaking off the earth and rinsing them under an outside tap. Perhaps then they will only whimper. But, if they scream on coming out of the ground,what noise do they make when topped, tailed and peeled?
The great eating feast that now is Christmas is a time when some people may want to re-examine their relationship to food, particularly meat. One of the great arguments is about France's essential Christmas (and New Year) delicacy: foie gras. This, for those who have not read a paper for years, is the over-sized liver of a forcibly over-fed duck or goose. The liver is processed in various ways to conserve it but is most appreciated as paté de foie gras mi-cuit. France produces about 20,000 tonnes of duck foie gras, goose foie gras is about three per cent.
The origin of foie gras – known to the Ancient Romans and Egyptians - is the natural tendency of certain ducks and geese to stock their livers with energy producing food for their winter migrations. The main duck breed presently used for foie gras is the cross between a Muscovy and a Pekin duck known as the 'mulard' . Only the drakes are used – ducks' necks are too slender. Once I had to fish a duck out of the grain bin – grain destined for the pregnant ewes – so I can testify to a duck's greed for grain. The webbed feet of ducks have extremely sharp toe-nails, and my hands suffered considerable damage .
When foie gras was still an artisanal product, one made by the farmer's wife mostly for the immediate family, possibly some for the local market, it was probably less stressful for the bird. The bird had wandered round the farm, got in the way, had its own pond, dutifully came in at night – because it was fed grain inside. Then, after some twelve to fifteen weeks in the fields, it was confined to quarters. Twice a day, as it was held in box between her knees, the farmer's wife pushed maize through a funnel down its neck, stroking the neck if the descent appeared to cause problems. There was a relationship between the two during the two weeks this lasted.
Fat duck livers produced this way, along with a few fat goose livers, can still be bought in France's rural markets, especially those of the South-West and Alsace, the two traditional fat duck or goose producing regions. At one point in time Dordogne farmers were encouraged to increase their fat duck production with both training and sometimes financial help. One acquaintance of mine built what he proudly called his 'laboratory' where the 'gavage' or stuffing process happened. It was cleaner than many a domestic kitchen. The ducks were fed by himself and several part-time helpers. He was also inordinately proud of the salle d'abattage where the ducks were 'sacrificed' – a word rural French people frequently use in preference to slaughter. He was deeply disappointed that none of his English clients would visit, his French clients insisted.
Domestic production has long since been over taken by large scale industrial production to satisfy world wide demand to the detriment, in my opinion, of the relationship between producer, consumer and consumed. Respect, knowledge and appreciation of and for all forms of meat have gone. In Genesis it is written that “God chose to give man, made in his image, dominion over animal life,..... over plants and seeds”. Nowhere does it say that Man has the right to turn these into protein factories.