Foie gras is not a matter of national taste, it is barbaric and should be banned – Stephen Jardine

It was my first time in Africa. As dusk settled, we pulled over at a roadside pit stop for fuel.

Activists from the campaign group Peta take park in an anti-foie gras protest outside the House of Commons last month (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA)

The place had a café bar attached and our driver disappeared into the kitchen to check what was available. Moments later he stuck his head around the door and asked “is chicken and chips OK?” At moments like that, hungry and far from home, you’re grateful for the universality of food.

Some dishes simply travel well. When politicians get together for a summit, a grand dinner is always the centrepiece because food unites us and breaks down barriers.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

But it can also divide us. The day after my chicken and chips deep in the bush, I met a man in Malawi selling desiccated mice on a stick. Apparently it was a local treat enjoyed by passing truckers. Each to their own.

Every country has its list of less palatable delicacies and before we start to feel too superior about this, let’s remember we are the home of the haggis. We may love it but for many the idea of minced offal stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach is just too much.

Down south, tripe and jellied eels probably fulfil a similar role while in Wales, faggots made with caul fat and pork liver are, let’s just say, an acquired taste.

But you have to cross the Channel to get into really tricky territory. Despite being the world's culinary capital, France also has some very questionable food fads.

I lived in Paris for a few years and got used to many things but not the sight of the neighbourhood horse butcher. The French think we are ridiculously squeamish about this and point to all the other things we are willing to eat.

However with many other countries also repulsed by the very idea of horse meat, the boucheries chevalines are in decline and numbers have halved in the past 20 years.

Then the trade will probably move under the counter, much as happened with the Ortolan. This tiny songbird was a gastronomic prize, killed and eaten in a ritual fashion, involving being drowned in brandy and then consumed whole with a napkin draped over your head to hide your shame. Although now banned, reports still surface of the birds being traded for $200 a head.

The French have a well-developed sense of their own national importance and any attacks on Gallic gastronomy are seen as assaults on the country itself. For that reason, the last food row could be the most bitter yet.

In last week’s Queen’s Speech, the UK government announced further steps to limit imports of foie gras, following years of campaigning by animal rights activists.

Made by force-feeding ducks or geese with grain poured down their necks until their livers expand, the product has been condemned as cruel by opponents who hope to end it by cutting off sales.

In response, the head of France’s foie gras producers’ association has said she is “shocked and outraged” by criticism from Britain and has invited MP’s to visit and check production for themselves.

However there is a firm dividing line between what is not to our tastes and what is produced in a barbaric and unnecessary fashion and for that reason, foie gras now belongs in the food history books.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.