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The Controversial Foods Debate

Roberto Badin A raw-milk Camembert, aged under the U.S. minimum of 60 days.

Photo: Roberto Badin

This could only be a good thing, right?"Banning trans fats isn’t an inherently bad idea," Jenkins says. "But once you open that window, you open too many others—and if they take that away, next they’re gonna come for our ice cream and potato chips." The problem with legislating eating habits isn’t just that the rules are often arbitrary. It’s that there’s no obvious place to stop. Food is intrinsically dangerous—for God’s sake, you put it in your mouth. This is the risk one assumes with the blessing and burden of having an appetite. It’s why we have warning labels on shrink-wrapped sirloin, oyster menus, and Caesar salads. And unless you’re a sprout-munching vegan, eating is cruel by definition. Let’s be honest here: we’re killing things to consume them, and anyone who’s visited a farm—even a sweet, happy little farm—can confirm that it’s often not pretty.

So where’s the sensible end point?I won’t defend foie gras by denying its production is unsavory; I suppose it is. But for every lavaged goose whose photo appears on an anti–foie gras Web site, another 10,000 faceless battery chickens and factory cows are raised in similarly unsettling conditions. Who’s picketing all the supermarkets and restaurants that are enabling that?(This forces questions of tolerance: if foie gras is inhumane, what do we say about halal and kosher butchery, which some believe are unacceptably cruel?) And while it’s all well and good to consider the lobster, it seems duplicitous to talk about its happiness en route from ocean to market, when the ultimate intention is for it to be taken home and boiled to death.

There’s no question we could use a little more temperance in this country. But does it have to be imposed from above?The fact is, if we outlawed every food that’s potentially lethal (spinach, pufferfish, rhubarb), or whose origins somebody somewhere might find disturbing, we’d have nothing left on the table­—at least nothing worth eating.;

If loving foie gras is wrong, Peter Jon Lindberg doesn’t want to be right.

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