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Michael Panter

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Renewed Foie Gras Controversy Has Rich, Buttery History

Late last week, zealous New Jersey assemblyman Michael Panter proposed a ban on foie gras in the state. This whole force-feeding-of-geese and-ducks thing is a perennial controversy — Marshall Sella offered a meticulously balanced analysis of the "culinary culture war" last year in these pages, before Chicago became the first city to outlaw the delicacy. In fact, from the moment humans began stuffing birds to pump up their livers, men and women of conscience have expressed their qualms with the practice. The great nineteenth-century gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote remorsefully of the fowls: "They have not only been deprived of the means of reproduction, but they have been kept in solitude and darkness, and forced to eat until they were led to an unnatural state of fatness." Not that he minded the results. "It is very true that this unnatural grease is very delicious, and that this damnable skill gives them the fineness and succulence which are the delight of our best tables." Charles Gerard, a contemporary of Brillat-Savarin's, was decidedly less guarded in his endorsement: "The goose is nothing, but man has made of it an instrument for the output of a marvelous product, a kind of living hothouse in which there grows the supreme fruit of gastronomy."