California Foie Flap: Hold the Panic

Last Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said California was once again free to enforce a ban on foie gras. PETA rejoiced. Chefs bristled in anger. The news came so abruptly, it felt like an end-of-the-week data dump. Its swiftness caught Michelin-star chef Josiah Citrin of Santa Monica’s Melisse off-guard, and it also caused mass confusion amongst diners. I saw more a few people on my social media feed fearful that they had just a couple of days to sneak in a sliver of fatty goose or duck liver before it disappeared from the menu.

Fear not – now is not the time to rush out and stuff your face with foie. It’s not going anywhere, at least for the near future.  The ruling leaves a two-week window for groups to appeal the decision. When this happens, it will initiate a process of deliberation that will effectively put the kibosh on implementing the ban for months. This is most assuredly a “when” and not an “if” scenario. The most famous name in the foie gras game, New York’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras, has already gone on record saying they’ll appeal the ruling, much like they did when the first ban dropped in 2012. By the time you read this, they may have already filed their appeal.

You shouldn’t panic about never being able to eat foie gras in California again, either. The ban restricts the selling of foie in restaurants, but not necessarily the serving of the delicacy. This creates a massive legal loophole that renegade chefs were happy to exploit through complimentary foie and unusual marked-up offerings five years ago. Thanks to this loophole, a $32 serving of crostini bread with raspberry compote wasn’t an oddity. It was code. That completely legal dodge is still part of the ruling, and I suspect that if the ban does go into effect, a greater number of chefs will take advantage of its presence. It probably won’t take too much leg work to find these rebels, either.

If you’re against the ban, don’t treat this ruling as an impetus to engage with the ruling’s ardent, sign-toting supporters. If you enjoy foie, the ruling undoubtedly upset you. Even if you’re ambivalent toward the delicacy, you may view the decision as an intrusion of personal freedom, something that you may find as digestible as a fast food burrito consumed at 1:00 AM. In either case, chances are great you’re socially ensconced in a social hive of like-minded individuals, ready to commiserate over the potential loss of a culinary indulgence. It’s in your best interest to keep it confined to such strata.

The most vocal advocates of the ban tend to be extremists in the animal rights movement. This is certainly the sector of the anti-foie movement that gets the most attention. Giving death threats to chefs will grab a fair share of headlines. These unsavory people are nothing more than a rich vein of frustration for foie aficionados. They are not interested in having genuine discussions with you about the issue, but they have no problem prodding and provoking to get a rise out of you. If I may be so bold as to inject a little hockey parlance, they are the equivalent of an on-ice agitator; a player that will engage in dirty, if not occasionally dangerous, play, but will turtle and hide when confronted by their actions. These players and their actions tend to remove dignity from the game (more so than the “goons,” but that’s a topic I’ll dive into if I ever start a hockey blog). Conversely, the loudest of the anti-foie advocates tend to strip relevance from the general cause of animal rights due to their behavior. This sector also seems to lack regard or awareness of the damage their actions do to their general ideology, which makes them look unhinged. That’s reason alone to not engage with them, no matter the promise of catharsis you may think it may offer.

However, if you side with the foie ban yet reject such pot-stirring tactics, this is the time to let your voice be heard. The crux of the foie flap is almost wholly focused on a lack of humane treatment of geese or ducks. When this nugget is not forcibly encamped in “good vs. evil” slots, it can become a touchstone to explore overarching concepts of growing and raising food. If you’re a rational ban supporter, you’ll find those on the other side of the fence more than willing to engage in this level of conversation. There’s a reason for this. When food is elevated to a certain degree, it can double as a key component of an ongoing educational process driven by the discussion of concepts and ideals. A talk about the ethics of foie gras and how it correlates to humane methods of food production fits this process rather well. It’s a discussion worth having. Unfortunately, because of the extremists that lay claim to your point of view, you will have to be the one to initiate the dialogue. But don’t be afraid to start this conversation. Instead, take comfort in knowing the late Charlie Trotter was on your side.

There will be plenty of time to have this type of talk. Foie gras is still on the menu in California, and will be for quite a while. Based on what happened the last time around, I don’t think the ban will survive the inevitable appeal process, although as someone that enjoys foie gras, this could be admitted wishful thinking. We shall see.

The Obligatory First Post

There’s a problem with first posts to any content-driven website, be it a blog, online magazine, or whatever its readers call it on their end. The first paragraph, like the one you’re reading now, doesn’t tell you jack about what follows, what to expect, or anything useful that a reader may be able to glean about the site’s content. This is no exception. In fact, it was pretty much written to get that whole first paragraph jazz out of the way.

But now that we’re all here, let’s just get formalities over with and allow me to welcome you to The Lazy Hunter. I hope you dig it, and I hope this isn’t the last time you drop by. The site may be sparse now, but that will change as time moves forward.

At this point, I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Rich Manning, and I’ve been doing the professional freelance writing thing since 2004, although it wasn’t my full-time gig until 2010. Past and present publications I’ve written for include Gayot, Tasting Panel, Somm Journal, and a bunch of local Orange County magazines and websites. That’s the glamorous stuff. The ad copy and web content development that I also do is considerably less glamorous, unless an “About Us” page for Minneapolis plumbers somehow quickens your pulse.

More to the point, I’m a guy that’s grown tired of what has become of food, drink, and travel writing since it has migrated online.  A lot of what passes muster on these topics these days is either hyperbole-driven sensationalism or shiny, happy quasi-advertorial slog; bad trends made worse by the presence of ghoulish typos and mixed metaphors. It drives me a bit bonkers. Not because I want to say I’m better – I’m a writer, therefore I’m in constant fear that someone will discover I’m nothing more than a hack – but because I want something more as a reader.  It’s my sincere hope that I can provide you with something extra.

The concept of The Lazy Hunter is to share essays, stories, and news about food, drink, travel, and the ethereal spirit that somehow joins them at the cosmic hip. At their best, these stories will not break the cardinal rule of “show, don’t tell.” At their worst, they will hopefully be compelling enough for you to revisit here to see what may be next. For better or worse, the articles will not be clickbait. I’m not a fan of the style, and I will admit to having daydreams of it resembling a shadow in the shade one day. However, I resided myself long ago that those kinds of sites are here to stay, and their content will remain embedded in our social media feed because we have loved ones in our lives that enjoy sharing that kind of slop. I’m merely seeking out a way to co-exist as an alternative for those that want a little more substance out of what they read digitally.

It’s an alternative that doesn’t seek to tell you about food, drink, and travel.  Its aim is to show you why food, drink, and travel matter so much.  You’re not going to get beat over the head here with Instagrams taken from a media dinner so I can tell you how everything was amazeballs. What you’ll see instead is a dive into the observational and personal side of things, because those are the elements where passion and life experiences originate. These tales could be built around a conversation with a local chef at a farmer’s market.  They could touch on an annoying drink trend that is inexplicably ripping through the bar community.  They could convey the feeling of joy that can only come from accidentally stumbling into a nondescript hole-in-the-wall joint in some unfamiliar city in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances.  These are the things that stay lodged in our minds for decades, long after the edible elements of a quasi-unforgettable five course meal start to disappear.  These are the things The Lazy Hunter intends to share.

Some of the posts you’ll read here will be short and sweet.  Others may fall into the “print it off and go to the bathroom” length.  Regardless of length, I promise to be as genuine as possible at every turn. All positives and negatives will be organically cultivated and presented as such. Praise will be given to something or someone when appropriate and earned; criticisms will occur when necessary, but they’ll be bereft of needless bashing and self-righteous snark. Okay, maybe just a little snark. It depends on how warm my air-conditioner-free office gets.

The Lazy Hunter isn’t going to be the “next big thing” or some such poppycock. It’s simply a place where stories can be told and news can be shared. Please enjoy.

Rich Manning

Founder and Chief Dork

The Lazy Hunter