Thursday, February 3, 2011

Food: A Food Controversy

Ethical and moral arguments rarely reduce themselves to simple sayings and truisms. This is true when one strays from the simplistic extremes of the arguments and head towards the middle ground. When one moves off to a fringe area... watch out - flame wars are easy to start.

In the world of food one large ethical argument is whether we humans should eat meat. Should we be vegetarian (or even vegan)? Or should we remain omnivorous?

The arguments on each side range from moral (we do or do not have a right to eat animals) through to practical (meat eating for all humans alive isn't sustainable). Most of these arguments are based on the simplistic extremes. One either eats some meat or eats none. Once you head for middle ground it gets even more complicated. For example: If one feels it is okay to eat meat... how much should one eat and how much should one worry about how the animals are raised and looked after?

Once you move away from the simplistic (meat or no meat) into areas of discussion that aren't so clear cut complications emerge.

As for the fringe... well.. there are areas of discussion that seem to invite more passion and controversy.

Take foie gras for instance.

Fattening ducks or gooses beyond 'normal' bounds and limits? Feeding tubes? Forced feeding? It's not hard to see why foie gras is considered beyond the pale in some circles. People who will argue politely over the meat / non-meat debate will get very angry over foie gras.

Is it possible to look objectively at foie gras? Can one get past the idea of what foie gras represents and look at what's really happening and how it happens?

If you are dead set against the idea of foie gras then The Physiology of Foie Gras on Serious Eats won't do anything to change your mind. If you're all for the idea of foie gras then the article will only make you feel better about the production of foie gras.

And if you're not sure one way or the other? If you think you have an open mind and might by willing to let a pro-food website take a look at foie gras? In that case I'm not sure. I don't know if the article works well as a defence of foie gras or if it will turn people against the idea.

My best guess is that for those who aren't sure the article will be like making a coin toss to help with a difficult position. If you ever want to know what choice you want to make you simply assign one choice to heads, the other choice to tails, take a coin and flip it high into the air, and your choice is whatever you hope the coin lands on when it comes back down. Even if you don't know your position on foie gras the article will help. By the time you have read half of it you'll know which way you want the coin to land.

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