“A federal judge struck down California’s ban on foie gras, allowing restaurants to serve up the delicacy for the first time in two years.” He ruled that the ban infringed on federal authority. While restaurants now can import the delicacy from other states, a separate ban on producing it in California remains in place. [San Francisco Chronicle, SF Eater, opinion, Linnekin, earlier]
“Yes, I was a ‘duckeasy’,” confesses one restaurateur. “The repeal passed Wednesday over the shouted objections of the ordinance’s original sponsor by a vote of 37 to six after a council member forced it out of committee.” (AFP/Drexel “Smart Set”, May 15). We were among the many who criticized the Chicago government for banning the delicacy.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m quite happy with a state of the world where dogfighting is banned but foie gras isn’t. But I’m not persuaded that the good professor has made the case for a principled distinction. Discussion of this (and of the almost entirely unrelated Larry Craig case) after the jump:
Did you think the city famed for Al Capone and the Prohibition speakeasies would roll over for an even sillier nanny-statism?
When the letter came from City Hall threatening punishment if he continued to serve foie gras at his North Side restaurant, Doug Sohn framed the warning and set it beside his cash register.
And he kept serving the fattened duck liver without a care. …
The city has sent warning letters to nine restaurants believed to have served foie gras but issued no citations, Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman Tim Hadac said. Letters are sent after a citizen complaint and are followed by a visit after a second complaint. Visits that turn up evidence of the banished dish can result in fines from $250 to $500.
But Mayor Richard Daley is no fan of the ban–just this week, he called it “the silliest law” the City Council has ever passed.
Perhaps that helps explain why the Health Department is in no rush to boost their compliance checks.
“In a world of very limited public health resources we’re being asked to drop some things so we can enforce a law like this,” Hadac said. “With HIV/AIDS, cancer, West Nile virus and some of the other things we deal with, foie gras is our lowest priority.” …
Some owners have tiptoed around the ban by serving the dish under alternate or code names (“I’ll have the special lobster” will supposedly score foie gras at one restaurant), but renegades say they’ll do what they must to fight City Hall. …
At first, [restauranteur David Richards] said, restaurant owners worried their access to foie gras would be limited, and they crafted plots to keep their supply flowing–like getting it mailed to a suburban address for weekly covert pickups. Such cunning turned out not to be necessary, he said. Richards still gets foie gras from the same distributor he always did, and no one seems to care that it is still on his menu.
“We look at it as a choice,” he said. “We live in a free-market society and if people are truly offended they won’t buy it. If they don’t buy it, I won’t buy it.”
Instead, he said, his foie gras sales have climbed, making him even less inclined to heed the law. …
Many of those most vocally opposed to the ban have coolly stepped away from the debate by ending their foie gras sales or at least coming up with names clever enough to obscure the issue. Available on the menu at Copperblue, for instance, is “`It Isn’t Foie Gras any Moore’ Duck Liver Terrine”–a testy nod to the alderman who sponsored the foie gras ban.
Though the $16 cost seems closer to the price of foie gras than simple duck liver, Copperblue chef and owner Michael Tsonton would not say whether he had merely renamed the illicit dish. In September, when still serving foie gras, he got a warning letter that he said he hung in his kitchen.
(Josh Noel, “Let ’em eat foie gras, they declare”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 22 (via Noonan, who says he was thinking of opening a restaurant called “Foie Gras Fried In Trans Fat”)). The Tribune story lists the nine restaurants that have gotten warning letters, and I can personally vouch for one of my favorites, Bin 36, where a date and I had a fine meal during a January 2005 blizzard.
Correspondent R.C. directs our attention to the curious claim of “harm” by the last-named plaintiff:
Animal rights activists have asked a state judge to stop foie gras production in New York, saying the ducks used are overfed to such an extent that they are diseased and unfit for sale under state law.
The lawsuit, if it succeeds, could spell the end of foie gras production in America, a goal animal rights groups have long sought. The two Sullivan county farms that are defendants in the suit are the only foie gras producers in the country, other than a Northern Californian foie gras farm that may shut down under a California state law banning the industry….
The first challenge the suit faces is to convince a judge that the animal-rights activists who filed the suit have suffered enough harm to allow them standing to sue. The plaintiffs in yesterday’s suit offered several ways that they had been harmed by the foie gras industry.
One plaintiff, Caroline Lee, claims that the state’s regulatory departments are misspending her tax dollars by inspecting birds raised for foie gras production without concluding they are diseased. Another plaintiff, an animal rescue organization, Farm Sanctuary, claims its employees have been “aesthetically and emotionally injured” by being exposed to the “suffering” of abandoned ducks that they rescue from foie gras production. Another plaintiff, a New York restaurateur, Joy Pierson, claims that her decision not to serve foie gras has caused her to lose customers at her two Manhattan restaurants, Candle 79 and Candle Café, according to the complaint.
Chicago’s silly anti-foie gras law is taking effect next week (see Jun. 8 and links therein), but a planned commerce-clause lawsuit against the ban (via Wallace, whose post has a lot of good links on similar bad laws and proposals) is even more silly. In 1995, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an even sillier nanny-state ordinance against spray paint sales that was also challenged on commerce clause grounds: “Just as the Constitution does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, so it does not enact prescriptions from the pages of The Journal of Law & Economics—where, we may assume, an article will appear in due course adding this ordinance to the long list of laws whose costs exceed their benefits.” (Full disclosure: I was a clerk for the author of that opinion at that time.)
Chicago’s recently enacted ban on the delicacy (Apr. 27, May 4) has got Alderman Edward M. Burke thinking: now that we’ve started, why can’t the city ban less healthy frying oils and that sort of thing too? (Fran Spielman, “Alderman wants to limit fatty, fried fast food”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jun. 8).
More: In April, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by a cardiologist who averred:
Food calories are so pervasively and inexpensively available in our environment that they should be regarded as a pollutant. Just as an asthmatic can’t help but inhale pollutants in the air all around him, we Americans cannot help but ingest the calories present in the environment all around us.
(John G. Sotos, “A Modest — and Slimming! — Proposal”, Apr. 7). The Consumerist (Apr. 13) and Rogier van Bakel (Apr. 18) react with appropriate scorn. And a new report commissioned by the federal government proposes that the feds jawbone restaurants into reducing portion sizes (“FDA Report Urges Restaurants to Help Downsize America”, AP/Washington Post, Jun. 3). See also Radley Balko, Apr. 21.
The dozen or so restaurants in town that serve the expensive French delicacy will be subject to $250 to $500 fines if they continue to do so. California has banned the production, but not the serving, of the fattened goose liver. (Fran Spielman, “City council approves foie gras ban”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 26 (via Bainbridge)).