Foie gras, faux pas?

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Foie gras from Fortnum & Mason

The news the other week that animal rights activists had targeted a Norfolk restaurant for including foie gras on its menu seemed all too familiar. They won the day. After menacing phone calls and fake bookings owner-chef Mark Dixon backed down.

I say all too familiar because we had a spate of that in the Sheffield area a few years back. In 2006 a group of vegan activists picketed Rafters on Oakbrook Road, then run by Marcus Lane. Unmoved, he was quite content to let them be: after all, everyone has a right to protest but he sent down a bar of soap so, he said, they could at least be clean and tidy outside his restaurant.

The following year I reported in the Sheffield Star that the Blue Room Brasserie, under Christian Kent, was in the line of fire. He felt discretion was the better part of valour.

In 2008 the Showroom’s restaurant was in the group’s sights but the explanation seemed to be that it had been a menu drawn up for a private party and left as an example on the website. This group was busy Googling ‘Sheffield’ and ‘foie gras’ because Moran’s, on Abbeydale Road South, also got a call. It had, said owner Bryan Moran, been on an old menu and wasn’t now and he refused to sign an undertaking not to serve it again.

As The Star’s food writer and restaurant critic I documented all this. My last story on the subject, before I retired, was about the now deceased Kitchen on Ecclesall Road which, in 2010, scored a double whammy as far as vegans were concerned: on the menu was a veal burger topped with foie gras. The owner worriedly took it off when the calls started coming.

What happened in some cases was that foie gras went ‘under the counter’ and did not appear on menus.

I have not heard of anything untoward since from the people I dubbed the Foie Gras Liberation Front but I do know of several restaurants in the area which serve it from time to time. In at least one case, it is ethically sourced. If you do buy it, don’t get it from Eastern Europe. This article is not the place for the pros and cons of enlarged goose or duck liver but it can be produced humanely. The livers don’t grow as big because the birds are left to eat naturally and greedily. And, of course, it’s much more expensive.

Of course, for vegans, all meat is murder. They are entitled to their view but they are not entitled to impose it on others. And their tactics are cowardly: threatening letters and phone calls, fake bookings and vague threats of worse to come. On one of their websites one contributor pointed out menacingly that the Nottinghamshire restaurant under threat was down an ill-lit county road. Restaurants are easy targets. Foie gras is served up in restaurants where ‘posh people’ go so, and posh people are fair game. In fact, they’re probably Tories.

I note they do not picket Indian restaurants for there are many of us uneasy about the production of halal meat. If they did they would almost certainly get beaten up.

Everyone must make their choice. I eat foie gras (when I get the chance). I try and eat halal meat as little as possible. I won’t eat frog’s legs because they might come from Indonesia where they are still alive when sliced in half then tossed on a pile, taking ages to die.

Selling and serving foie gras is legal in this country (and again in California). So is halal meat. And frog’s legs. Some people will eat it, others won’t. These activists can make their point but anything else is just plain nasty.

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