It is difficult to imagine these days, but, not very long ago, people would deposit litter on the streets without care or reproach, dog mess would be left on the pavement, and smokers would strike up without any consideration for their fellow citizens.
We are a much more evolved society now, and this sort of behaviour is rightly regarded as anti-social. Other aspects of personal behaviour are frowned upon, too. The wearing of fur, for instance. And to that list must now be added the eating of foie gras.
So beyond the pale is the consumption of this goose-liver delicacy that Nigella Lawson yesterday instructed lawyers to rebut a story in one of the papers that she had bought supplies of under-the-counter foie gras from Selfridges (the store has banned its sale on ethical grounds). According to the report, the illicit foie gras was available to special customers, but only if they used passwords. Nigella denies ever making such a purchase.
Selfridges stopped stocking foie gras two years ago after a campaign led by Sir Roger Moore, who made a video on the subject for the animal rights campaign group Peta.
It is still available on YouTube, and it makes for very uncomfortable viewing. Sir Roger is persuasive in explaining the cruelty attached to the production of something Gordon Ramsay described as "the chef's ultimate ingredient – melt in your mouth and absolutely delicious".
On foie gras farms, the geese and ducks – noble creatures with personality, meticulously clean, and with natural athletic attributes – are denied their every desire, kept in tiny, filthy cages and force fed until their livers swell up to 10 times their normal size. Foie gras – the translation means "fatty liver" – is essentially the product of a diseased liver. "As revolting as it is to eat an animal's diseased organ," says Sir Roger in the video, "the cruel treatment of the birds is even more disturbing."
One might think Sir Roger an unlikely spokesman for this cause: he lives a life of luxury in Monte Carlo and is well known for his love of the finer things in life. Which makes this short film all the more powerful.
Not all chefs agree with Ramsay. Some believe that foie gras packaging should include warnings, with full details of what the birds endure, while Albert Roux says it's possible to replace the force-feeding of duck and geese with more humane methods.
And on 1 July, the campaign against foie gras moves to another level when the state of California bans the production and sale of any product "if it is the result of force-feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size". It won't be long before serving foie gras is as unacceptable as putting roast swan stuffed with bald eagle on the menu. No wonder that Nigella wanted nothing of it.Follow @Simon_Kelner