Saturday, February 14, 2009

$10,000 and a Strange Invitation

It was an ordinary day at the restaurant, just before we began preparations for the mayhem of Valentine's Day, when a strange invitation arrived in the mail. PETA is sponsoring a cooking challenge this year with a $10,000 prize. The contest is called the "Fine Faux Foie Gras Challenge," to see "which top chef will develop the world's first authentic-tasting faux foie gras." The foie gras issue has been raging in the States for several years now, with some dramatic clashes in Chicago and San Francisco. Even here in Portland, there have been controversial picket lines protesting its sale. It seems PETA has the idea of winning this battle with a substitution, by producing "a faux foie gras that contains no animal ingredients whatsoever and is as close as possible in taste, texture, and form to the foie gras that is prepared in the world's finest dining establishments."

I couldn't put my finger on the paradox, but something didn't seem quite right about this. I went home and wrote a letter to PETA in fairness, to share why I didn't think this was the victory they were looking for.

Dear PETA,

After giving some consideration to your "Fine Faux Foie Gras Challenge," I hope you will give some consideration to my protest. As a chef, one of my missions is to give consideration to the integrity of ingredients. I prepare my ingredients in such a way that they can each be what they are, and express their own greatness. There is a reason why foie gras is used as a luxury ingredient. It has certain innate qualities, which are achieved by certain methods, whether they are humane or not.

It is here that I find confusion in your intention to spend money and resources on a contest which imitates the flavor of something which your members ethically oppose, when there are so many great and honest flavors which could be promoted in its place, with less effort and less manipulation.

There will certainly be chefs who will submit their creations for the contest, and it can only be "through the use of advanced technology and molecular gastronomy" that this contest will be determined. Only through the elaborate transformation of ingredients (and I imagine, through the suspension and stabilization of fats which the body cannot easily metabolize) will this flavor and texture be imitated. When it is accomplished, the end result can hardly be considered food at all, and the cruelty which you sought to spare force-fed ducks will instead be imposed upon those fine dining patrons who sought the ethical treatment of animals other than themselves.

Sincerely Yours,

David Padberg

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