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The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight Hardcover – March 10, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Veteran Chicago Tribune entertainment reporter Caro expands on his front-page story about a 2005 flap over foie gras with a wide-ranging investigation into the ethical debate surrounding the human consumption of fattened duck liver. Drawing on conflicts in Chicago, Philadelphia and California over whether force-feeding birds should be legislated as torture or standard agricultural practice, Caro presents various positions from duck farmers, chefs and animal rights activists. His chatty arguments between industry players deliver without becoming unnecessarily complicated or resorting to the oversimplification of surveys and superficial media reports. Caro offers descriptions of a vegan activist headquarters, a video depicting a rat burrowing into an injured duck, and traditional farm operations in France. While he pursues his source's agendas with due diligence, he appears reluctant to side completely with gourmands despite describing presumably happy ducks, mouthwatering foie gras meals and even eating a raw duck liver. While he tends to focus on the colorful, entertaining aspects of the food's history and science, Caro's selection of pointed quotes from duck liver lovers and foie gras foes presents an in-depth take on this ongoing food fight. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In 2006, Chicago’s City Council enacted a ban on the sale of foie gras, one of the summits of gastronomic art. Concerted action by a number of animal-rights advocates armed with photos and videotapes had persuaded one alderman to propose the embargo, and the ordinance sailed through with little debate. Reacting to this governmental interference in their menus, Chicago’s vainest and most celebrated chefs squared off in opposing camps, hurling insults at one another and generally attracting both national and worldwide attention until the ban’s repeal in 2008. Chicago Tribune reporter Caro has documented the full story of this culture contretemps. Reminding that force-feeding poultry dates back to the dawn of recorded history, he investigates the reality of today’s relatively benign treatment of ducks and geese on both American and French farms. He details force-feeding processes that engorge fowls’ livers to succulence and appear so repugnant to urbanites who romanticize rural life. The voluble farmers, entrepreneurs, animal-rights activists, and chefs whom Caro vividly describes rival even the perennially entertaining denizens of Chicago’s City Hall, and it becomes hard to discern who is the silliest goose. --Mark Knoblauch

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Printing edition (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416556680
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416556688
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,285,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R S Cobblestone VINE VOICE on June 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's rare that I read a book, and decide I need to develop a university course. The Foie Gras Wars, by Mark Caro, inspired me to do so.

The fatty liver of a force-fed duck or goose, foie gras (Caro notes the correct pronunciation is "fwah grah") is a speciality food item in the United States, but a rather common food item in France. The "foie gras wars" are not an anti-French action spawned by the creators of "Freedom fries," but rather a very focused campaign by animal activists and supporters of the humane treatment of agricultural animals toward this one food production system: the practice of stuffing a tube into the gullets of captive ducks and geese and forcing them to consume more food than they would under "natural" conditions (even in captivity) until they have an extremely fatty liver, affecting even their ability to waddle normally, then being slaughtered and packaged for up-scale restaurants (in the U.S.).

The book begins with the story of well-known Chicago chef Charlie Trotter speaking out against foie gras. What made foie gras different than veal, chickens, or bacon? Caro states the attention given to foie gras as a unique food niche was for the following reasons:

- it has a funny French name,
- it is enjoyed by the relatively affluent,
- it remains unknown to the average Tyson chicken eater,
- it is LIVER, and
- it is made from ducks. "We like ducks."

And, of course, the ducks and geese were force-fed. Foie gras promoter Michael Ginor stated "I would think that any animal that's economically grown suffers some. There's no question that the duck on day 28 of [force] feeding is not as happy as a duck that hasn't been fed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was pleasantly surprised when reading The Foie Gras Wars at how informative the book was. Having taken many Animal Science, Animal Morality, Species Dissection, and even a Meat Processing class in college, I was expecting The Foie Gras Wars to be a watered down or highly biased "layman's version" of what is really going on in the meat processing industry. It was not.

Mark Caro did a good job of remaining relatively unbiased regarding the moral practices of creating Foie Gras. He gave a detailed history of the delicacy, a startlingly frank explanation of how the animals are force fed into having these giant livers, and the standpoints of many famous chefs on whether or not they would serve this controversial dish. I was so intrigued that I even went online to find videos of Foie Gras production. Some were shocking, while others showed humane treatment of the animals.

While the book does get slow at several points, I believe the information was pertinent. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a glimpse into one small section of the meat processing industry. Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love fois gras. I have cooked with it, served it, and eat it whenever I get the chance. Its not something to eat every day, but as a "special occasion" treat now and then there are few food items as delightful. Yet, it has remained controversial. Even the butcher shop that I buy it from keeps it hidden behind the counter, and only brings it out for those who ask for it by name.

Why? Because fois gras has always been an easy target for animal rights activists. As Mark Caro points out in this fantastic book, fois gras is expensive, has a funny French name, and is so off the average person's radar that they couldn't care less if it is banned or not. The activists themselves will admit that a fois gras duck has a much better life and suffers much less than your average factory farm egg-laying chicken, but people aren't about to give up on eggs and it is better to win an easy victory than to lose the war entirely.

That is the basis for "The Fois Gras Wars." Chicago Chef Charlie Trotter kicked it all off by stating that his restaurants would no longer serve fois gras, and the game was on. Activists, sensing opportunity, sprang into action convincing the Chicago city council to introduce a Chicago-wide ban on the delicacy, and then used that success to launch campaigns against other cities across the US. They seemed to be on the winning side for once, until the whole thing came down like a house of cards. The ban was repealed, and in the end the animal right activists created far more new fois gras eaters than there ever would have been if they had simply remained silent. Suddenly, those who had never even heard of the food before were interested in at least giving it a try, and fois gras sales have soared ever since.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Unlike other reviewers, I don't see this as a complicated issue. I look at people who worry about the suffering of food animals and laboratory mice as morally defective, over-civilized lemmings divorced from the reality of nature and life itself. The idea that animal rights activists could terrorize restaurant owners and bamboozle politicians the way they have makes me want to club the lot of them to death like so many baby seals. The author's sympathy for the sort of deranged thinking that motivates such people had me reaching for my axe handle early in the read. Alas, he's too good a writer and journalist for me to get too white about the knuckles.

He gives vivid characterizations of all the strange people involved; from the hilariously arrogant chefs, to the spectrum of restaurateurs, to the earnest and oddly wholesome animal rights types, to the inscrutably French farmers of foie gras, to the very American characters who grow and sell duck livers in America: I wanted to buy the entire lot of them a cruelty-free brewski by the end of the book. Heck, even the ducks and geese were portrayed with considerable depth, sympathy and nuance. Some of the scenes of them making political sausage in the various City Councils and such were pretty dreary stuff, but I'm assuming CSPAN junkies might actually find this sort of thing interesting. He is also scrupulously fair to all sides of this issue; a rarity among journalists these days. Most journalists, due to the social class they belong to, would prefer to display their preening moral vanity, rather than, you know, actually do some objective journalism. Caro resists the urge. Sure, it could have been journalistic imposture, but he laid all the issues out anyhow.
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