Hamburgers are OK, same for pork chops and veal, and you can still order a T-bone the size of a stop sign. But if you want foie gras in Chicago, you'd better eat fast. Starting in late July, the gourmet delicacy is officially illegal within the city limits. The city council, after much debate, banned the sale of foie gras, threatening chefs with a fine if they dare to poach or pâté it, sear or sauté it.
Chicago is the first city in the country to ban foie gras, and it joins the state of California and countries such as Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom that have approved similar bans.
Foie gras, the fattened livers of geese or ducks, has become increasingly controversial in the United States. Animal-rights activists claim that the force-feeding method used on the birds is cruel, while gourmands argue that the real question should be whether to serve it with truffles or a nice Port sauce. Sarcasm aside, for many food lovers, the issue is about having the freedom to choose what they want to eat.
"What will be next? Veal? Lamb?" asked chef Rick Tramonto, who serves foie gras as a signature dish at his Chicago restaurant Tru, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. "It's just a travesty. I think Mayor [Richard] Daley said it perfectly." Daley was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying, "We have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers. And we're dealing with foie gras? Let's get some priorities."
Even within the culinary community, foie gras remains divisive. Star Chicago chef Charlie Trotter stopped serving foie gras several years ago, as have many in the restaurant industry, but Trotter is against the ban. "We believe these decisions should remain individual decisions. There are so many more important things in Chef Trotter's view that the government should be focusing on," said his spokesperson, Rochelle Smith. Trotter argues that he has never been a vocal opponent of serving foie gras and although he has not served it for several years, he kept a low profile about it until he was "outted" in a brouhaha last year. Joe Moore, the alderman who sponsored the ordinance, said it was Trotter's opposition to foie gras that inspired him.
"Until I read about Charlie Trotter, I didn't know what foie gras was or how it was produced," Moore said, "and upon reading the description about the way it is produced, I was horrified."
While Tramonto believes the ban on foie gras will not hurt business, "It's more depressing and demoralizing than anything," he said. "Foie gras is not on the radar screen of most Americans, but what would happen if we were to go after McDonald's French fries? People would speak loud and clear."
Moore sees it differently. "I'm a meat eater. I like a good steak. This isn't a health issue," he said. "I'm all for the freedom to choose what you eat, but I don't think people should be free to torture animals."
The ordinance, Moore said, will be enforced mainly through consumer complaint, and chefs in violation can be fined between $250 and $500.
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