THE BLOG

I'm a Coonskin-Totin', Goose Liver-Munching Human

23/01/2013 15:48 GMT | Updated 24/03/2013 09:12 GMT

When they are held up at the end of their lives to prevent them being soiled by their own shit and piss, you know something is wrong. Not a pleasant picture, it's true. Maybe just another pseudo-polemic, political activist video.

This is not a story of old people's homes but a return to the question of foie gras.

I'm not squeamish. I grew up on a farm and as a boy was no stranger to some of the more unpalatable habits of country life: using ferrets to decimate rabbit warrens, digging out foxes with terriers and coursing hares with lurchers. Drowning unwanted kittens and puppies was the norm, catching sparrows in cages only to break their necks and throwing dogs into the grain bins for gladiatorial ratting nauseating though they seem to me now, were common sport.

The debate about foie gras is essentially to do with the gavage; the practice of forcing food down the gullets of farmed geese. There are lots of examples of geese bred on farms in France where the birds seem to waddle happily to the farmer's wife (they prefer women apparently) to gorge on the corn mash, thus vastly extending their livers before being slaughtered. And there is a precedent for this in the wild, where migrating birds overfeed in order to sustain themselves across long migrations.

But willing or otherwise, from the most cursory inspection of the subject, it's extreme food production. And as with the unsavoury rural pastimes of my youth, I've tried to form a principled view of my relationship with nature. Pitting one animal against another for sport or killing a living thing that you are not going to eat, for fun, for fashion or only for luxury, is beneath human dignity.

Naturally people get defensive and claim that it's part of their culture and tradition. The arguments about foxhunting and bull-fighting still rage on. Yet the same people who defend those activities would condemn bear baiting or cock-fighting. Only last year in the park behind my home, police were patrolling summer nights to prevent the increase in dog-fighting. I daresay most of us would willingly reintroduce burning at the stake for such vile people but that too is a tradition we seem to have grown beyond in our thinking.

A bit far-fetched, you might think, to compare the foie gras industry with such rampant cruelty to animals (and humans). But the point still remains, that if producers are going to such lengths to extract a fattened liver from a bird for you to eat (and truthfully most of the stuff we eat is industrially produced), where else do you draw the line?

I have been shocked to see how many people seem to be wearing fur again. In New York this winter and now in London, not just the old furs but new ones, once again parading along the streets on the backs of both young and old.

I've looked at the animal rights websites exposing the cruelties exacted on these poor animals and naturally one is disgusted by them. But doubtless there are foie gras farmers who love their birds (see Dan Barber's notorious TED talk about this here and fur producers who treat their animals humanely. However you look at it though, we just don't need it. Do we?

We proved in the 1980s that seals didn't need to be clubbed to death and that whales needed to be protected from mass slaughter. Because those arguments were won intellectually. Because most of us were able rationalize above the over-simplistic, 'it's what we've always done' line.

So I suppose I just have to decide for myself whether it matters if I'm a 'coonskin totin', goose liver munching human that can just do what I like to indulge myself at the cost of any animal. And then again, how many children or oppressed Chinese were sewing the buttons on my nice new winter coat?