Well, the Great British Menu is at it again.
Despite the fact that I and several thousand other bird lovers expressed our outrage to BBC Two last year over the inclusion of foie gras in Great British Menu recipes, the dreadful "delicacy" once again oils its way across UK airwaves in the current series, which concludes this week. In response to a public outcry, the BBC has muttered feeble excuses about not wanting to "limit the ingredients" on the show, because, after all, entertainment is an insatiable god who demands blood sacrifices – the bloodier (and fattier) the better, apparently.
Just what exactly is all the fuss about? Why is someone like me, who worked for the BBC for more than 25 years, worrying my old boss like a dog with a worn-out shoe? Foie gras has the dubious distinction of being one of the few gourmet "ingredients" that is illegal to produce in the UK, even though, paradoxically, it is legal to buy, sell and consume.
Why is foie gras production illegal in Britain? Because it is revoltingly cruel – one might argue that it is perhaps the cruellest of all the very many cruel things done to animals on today's factory farms, which is saying something. Foie gras is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese up to two kilograms of grain and fat every day via a pneumatic tube that is shoved down their throats. This process causes the birds' livers to become grotesquely enlarged, up to 10 times their normal size, or about the size of a rugby ball. If you have even the foggiest notion of the size of the average duck's abdomen, you can imagine what having a rugby ball–size liver does to the bird's other internal organs. Towards the end of the force-feeding period, birds have trouble breathing because their enlarged livers are squeezing the air out of their lungs.
Ducks and geese are waterfowl – they spend the vast majority of their time in or near water. They swim in it, drink it and use it to bathe their feathers and eyes. But ducks and geese on foie gras farms are denied access to water for swimming or bathing, which I would argue amounts to torture in and of itself. And as if that weren't bad enough, ducks on some French and Canadian farms are confined to iron maiden–like cages that keep them virtually immobilised. They cannot so much as spread a single wing, much less turn around. I would like to have a few choice words with whoever invented this medieval torture device or, better yet, invite monsieur or madame to spend a few days or weeks in the fiendish contraption.
The BBC has accurately pointed out that it is within its legal rights to serve up foie gras seven days a week, 365 days a year, if it so desires – but what about its ethical obligations? If it were to take a stand against foie gras, it wouldn't exactly be breaking new ground. Just about everyone, including animal welfare groups, actors, singers, scientists, gourmet chefs and even Formula One drivers, is united in opposition to foie gras. Retailers Selfridges, House of Fraser, Jenners and Harvey Nichols have all stopped selling it, and Prince Charles and both houses of Parliament have banished it from their menus.
By featuring foie ras so prominently, the BBC is condoning horrific cruelty and trying to create the illusion that foie gras is non-controversial, when it is anything but. As one viewer so succinctly put it, "It is neither great nor British!" If it were to disavow the production and consumption of foie gras, the BBC would send an invaluable message to its viewers, not to mention save the lives of some of the fascinating birds I used to educate people about on its broadcasts.