What’s Good for the Goose…

This is happening near my home town:

Columbia restaurant vandalized for second time

Restaurant had previously been targeted for serving foie gras

Steve Wecker, co-owner of the Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia, said Monday that no references were made this time to foie gras. But Wecker suspects that the vandals who broke a window and damaged one of the front doors of the Route 108 property were trying to convey the same message as those who spray-painted “Get rid of the foie gras” while breaking several windows and gluing the front door lock on March 23.

Since the first incident, which caused an estimated $3,300 in damage, Wecker has added “Foie Gras Friday” to the restaurant’s menu and has servers wearing T-shirts reading “Got Foie Gras?” — a takeoff on the popular milk slogan.

“I’m sure that they’re mad that we didn’t cave in,” Wecker said, referring to the vandals.

Wecker, who has owned Iron Bridge Wine Company with his brother Rob for the past six years, believes the vandalism is the work of those who are against how foie gras is prepared. The delicacy is made from the livers of ducks and geese that are force-fed grains in order to fatten them up before they are slaughtered. While Wecker and others contend that the centuries-old process, known as gavage, has become more humane, many animal-rights groups have continued to protest around the country. Several cities have banned the dish.

“You can be an activist. You don’t have to be an anarchist or an idiot,” Wecker said.

Read more at the Baltimore Sun

This is too bad. The restaurant is nice, great wine selection and the people are friendly. But what about the birds – the ducks and  geese? Is the force feeding of these birds actually torture?  (For a fair and balanced response to this question check out this article in the  Village Voice.)  Certainly there are examples of animal abuse occurring within the  foie gras industry but, relatively speaking, there is too little foie gras eaten in America to make this an issue worth going to jail over.   I think these animal rights zealots might want to redirect their energies towards other food producing players who are doing  significant harm to both the animals and those people who consume them;  Big US agribusinesses. There are widespread and serious health as well as ethical problems with the practices of large growers of beef, pork and chicken. Our agricultural system is destroying the environment, other competitve food sources (fisheries) and the health of our citizens. But then again, it is probably much easier to pick on the local businessman than Archer Daniels Midland or Pepsi Cola. (I highly recommend that anyone concerned about the excesses of corporate welfare, environmental protection and the public’s general health read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Micahel Pollan.)

There is a magnitude of difference between the occasional uncomfortable goose or duck and that of the billions of corn fed, hormone injected and antibiotic laced shuffling dead that we call the chickens and cows that feed our nation.

I wonder if these animal loving activists are still buying chicken and eggs from their local grocer?


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  1. #1 by seekhispurpose on April 17, 2009 - 7:58 pm

    Just a word in defense of agribusiness (which I happen to have a significant financial stake in)–most farmers are also very much anti-industrial farming, and even not so fond of government payments, for that matter. Consumers, however, would be really testy about ponying up in the grocery store to pay prices for what food would actually cost them as produced on family farms.

    I also doubt most would be willing to go back a generation or two when everyone kept a few chickens and a cow and a garden in the back yard and were responsible for producing their own food.

    We have kept real chickens, by the way, and store-bought eggs are a poor fascimile for the real thing. I’m not milking a cow, though–I prefer skim.

    Good to see you . . . I got flattened by Lent and a bunch of job responsibilities, so I’m just getting back in the loop.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on April 17, 2009 - 10:56 pm

      Good to see you as well.

      You bring up a couple of points that Pollan makes as well. Though the farmers are subsidized to the point where there are encouraged to continue growing crops that there is no strong market for (corn, specifically) they can barely stay in business themselves. The monocultural farming that the USDA has promoted since the second world war along with the federal subsidies have really profited companies like ADM, Cargill, Tyson, Coca Cola and MacDonald’s, providing them with a cheap commodity that makes up much if not most of what they sell. Meanwhile, the farmer is addicted to the subsidies and to change crops would be cost prohibitive. He grows the crop but most of the money ends up in the many middle man’s pocket.

      Since so much of our industrial agriculture is mechanized, artificially maintained and shipped over long distances the price is linked directly to the oil market. Hence the tremendous increases in food prices this past year. On top of that, food is no longer food anymore, it is a commodity. It turns out that the dictates of the capitalist marketplace are not well designed for health, ours or the planets. Instead of a diverse and dynamic system of small farms we have fewer and fewer large corporations deciding what to grow and what not. You’d think the Soviets would have taught us that centralizing agriculture is a mistake.

      And of course we want cheap meats and chickens at the grocery store but we aren’t noticing the hidden costs in environmental cleanup, taxes to support subsidies and increasing health problems. There are other expenses as well. I live in Maryland but rarely eat crabs because the Chesapeake Bay is nearly devoid a commercial crabbing industry, thanks to agricultural runoffs. The same thing is happening in the Gulf where and algae bloom the size of New Jersey is spreading from the mouth of the Mississippi. Nitrates.

      According to Pollan (and I’ve researched it myself and agree with him) what we precisely need is a return to multicultural (many crops and animals) type of farming that is holistic, sustainable and very importantly, local. In other words, smaller, local farms that are not tied to one crop and a drive for ever increasing yields.

      Right now I am preparing for the farmer’s markets to open and even considering joining a buying club (for local foods). The key word is local – organic is a racket.

      Anyway, read the book. It’s well written and it is addressing a disaster that is already taking place and can only get worse.

      • #3 by seekhispurpose on April 17, 2009 - 11:38 pm

        I mostly agree, except perhaps being a little uncomfortable with the word that farmers are “addicted” to subsidies. You explain that statement well in the next breath–to forgo subsidies without a free market system puts us out of business.

        Interestingly, we were all excited about genetically modified crops for the very reason that it enabled us to cut back on the chemicals we use (which, by the way, are incredibly expensive, so no one’s applying them willy-nilly.) The resulting outcry against GMOs, however, prompted the whole Franken-foods controversy–without thoughts that many fruits and vegetables–hybrids–are already genetically modified. (Question: What kind of seeds do you plant to get seedless watermelon?)

        Most family farms returned to no-till agriculture years ago to reduce the numbers of times a tractor goes through the field (major fuel savings), as well as containing wind and water erosion.

        I read an interesting statistic a while back about obesity increasing among poor people. One reason cited is that they can’t afford to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, because they’re more expensive than the 99-cent boxes of macaroni and cheese. Then there’s those of us who just have a black thumb 🙂 (My grandparents, who were great gardeners, I’m sure just roll in their graves every spring when they see me plant my one little pathetic tomato plant that will die before it produces. Hope springs eternal.)

        If you’re interested in research into returning to sustainable agriculture, check out The Land Institute operated by Wes Jackson near Salina KS.

  2. #4 by Christian Beyer on April 18, 2009 - 8:50 am

    Thanks. I will. I had heard of the Land Institute before but hadn’t made the connection. And sorry, I never meant to cast aspersions on the farmer. Pollan’s book makes it clear that they have been forced into a corner by big business and big government (do I sound like the Unabomber yet? 😉 )

    I guess I’m fired up about this because my job is to provide nutrition to at risk low income children as well as teaching some of those same children how to cook. Most people don’t think ‘savory’ and ‘nutritious’ can go together because when we think of nutritious foods we think of wheat bran, unsweetened granola, yogurt and tofu (gosh, I hate tofu!)

    But the French paradox puts the real problem in light; they are true ominiovres, eating lots of ‘bad’ foods with lots of ‘good’ foods. And yet they are much healthier than we, who interestingly, are obsessed with food fads and diets. That’s the real paradox. Most of the non-impoverished world has a similar nutrition profile, that is up until recently. Most of the America used to fit this picture as well, until the trends began to change in the 1960’s.

    My student’s households lack much of the expensive healthy produce you mention. But why is it expensive? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the food has incurred significant transportation expenses. We demand summer produce in the winter so we expect year round, expensive, less tasty and less nutritious fruits and vegetables. Crops grown year after year in exhausted soils, fertilized soley with N-K-P (or grown hydroponically) lack those diverse vitamins, minerals and enzymes derived from healthy soil. Minerals and enzymes we try to replace with vitamin pills. (Someone said to me that America has the most expensive urine in the world.)

    Recent studies have shown that some of these enzymes and flavenoids are produced by the plant as natural defenses from predators, predators that we have removed with insecticides. So the plants do not produce them and we are short changed their benefit. The same problem might exist with genetically altered crops who bypass natures system of pest control; they are resistant to the bugs but they do not need to extract those healthy agents from the soil to be so. Meanwhile the farmers yields increase year after year and the price of their product drops steadily, they make less money and the price of rice soars in Malaysia (along with just about everything else in SuperFresh)

    It’s the same with with the mass produced animals we eat; they used to derive their nutrition from diverse sources; various pasture grasses, grubs, insects etc. Now it is almost exclusively corn. This is likely one reason why beef is so full of Omega 6 and so low on Omega 3 fatty acids. This imbalance is what many feel contributes to coronary artery disease (which I suffer from, btw) and this imbalance is due to the fact that cattle are ruminants that God never intended to consume corn. Now we are feeding corn to salmon, catfish and tilapia instead of what they would eat naturally and they are experiencing a corresponding shift in Omega acids. Corn is King. (Why are those home grown eggs of yours so much tastier and nutritious? )

    What exactly is your connection to agriculture? I too, have ‘black thumbs’ when it comes to growing food, but one thing I am pondering is the unused land that surrounds our church. Could this be an opportunity for the church to serve others where they really need help? After all, as Tom Wright said, to sum up his ministry Jesus didn’t provide us with creeds, instead he served a meal. Food is sacred.

    I am so glad you took the discussion in this direction. I think I need to turn this into a post.

  3. #5 by logiopath on April 18, 2009 - 10:58 am


    What a serious conversation–all I was thinking about was that picture was like the AFLAC commercials–and that you could say that his goose was cooked.

    On the other hand, the chicken pictures remind me of dragging and stacking 60′ roof trusses that go to Eastern Shore chicken farms–and how much power these companies like Tyson and Perdue have over their own suppliers (the chicken ranch owners were the most difficult customers in the construction supply business–a long story).

    On the third hand, Big Corn is trying to replace Big Oil, but for some reason the corporate corn growers are not seen being evil like the oil companies.

  4. #6 by seekhispurpose on April 25, 2009 - 7:24 pm

    Now, now, now, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a “corporate corn grower”. In our region, there are family farms that grow corn that are incorporated–I’m not aware that there is corporate farming in the same way that the corporations have taken over the pork and chicken industries, for example.

    In our areas, we promoted ethanol production as a way to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. The bigger issue, however, has become the amount of water needed to raise corn and produce ethanol. No one ever seems to consider seriously cutting back on consumption, as was evidenced by the number of SUVs on the road even when gas prices hit $4. In some ways, I am sorry to see lower gas prices, because it has lulled us back into complacency instead of getting serious about fuel efficient vehicles and alternative forms of energy. (We’re pretty big on the prospects for wind.)

    My husband and brother are 5th generation family farmers engaged in a small (for our region) dryland diversified crop and livestock production. The wheat and soybeans are sold at elevators and go to processors to make food products; the milo and corn are livestock feed. It will be interesting to see what our rural area will look like in another generation or two. There is little profit in farming compared to the long hours; few young people return to farm. We work at attracting other industry, with limited success–mostly heavy welding/manufacturing of agriculture equipment.

    Some farmers in our county with irrigated land try vegetable production, with limited success. A cooperative even built a vegetable processing plant, but the crops need to be harvested within a small window of time, which is not always possible with our variable weather. Vegetable production and processing is also labor intensive–which brings the whole issue of migrant workers and immigration into the picture.

    I think using land near a church, particularly if you are in a low-income urban area, is a great idea, if nothing else to teach children about food production. One man who owns a farmer’s market offers free vegetables to low-income people if they come help him weed or harvest crops.

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