A while back I found out that the city of Chicago, at the urging of animal-rights activists, has decided to ban foie gras. That's right, you can no longer order foie gras (apparently it's an expensive yummy dish made from duck livers) in Chicago resteraunts. The reason for the ban is because, in order to make the duck livers larger, the ducks are caged during the last couple weeks of their life, and force fed through a tube stuck down their throats. Not the must humane way to treat an animal, that's for sure.
So, in protest of this treatment, Chicago has told people they cannot eat foie gras.
I can't say I'm a fan of this law. There's something about it that just really bothers me. I've been thinking about it for a while, and I think I finally know what troubles me so much.
It isn't the subject matter. Which might sound strange, in light of the fact that this law seems absolutely crazy. I mean, it's a law designed to tell people that they can't eat a food, not because it's unhealthy, but because someone else feels bad for the animal it was made from. After all, what if the animal-rights groups were more influential? Would all meat be taboo? What if the vegans had all the power? Or what if there were a really strong raw-food lobby? (Yes, raw food. I had a professor who only ate uncooked foods.)
But it's not the subject matter that gets to me. I've always said the role of government is to make good citizens, and surely moral issues are proper subject matter. So even though this law seems crazy, I'm not going to be a hypocrite and say governments should never make this kind of law. The fact is, this is a law designed to serve a moral purpose, to make sure Chicagoan's aren't complicit in the cruel treatment of animals. And that's not such a bad goal. Especially when it's reduced down: ultimately, this is designed to protect animals from excessively cruel treatment, a perfectly legitimate purpose of legislation.
But I think there's still a problem or two with this law. First, it's too arbitrary. Just foie gras? Why not veal? Why not all meat? Why not all things from animals? Whether or not there was a reason only foie gras was banned, I don't know. It doesn't matter. Because ultimately this law appears arbitrary. It looks like animal-rights lobbyists got behind a single cause - banning foie gras - and pushed with all their might. And if that's how laws are being made, especially moral laws, then we've got a problem. You can't make ad hoc moral determinations based on the issue du jour. If we're focused on making good citizens we can't be swayed by "causes" - because then we'll only give attention to the loudest groups, we'll miss important issues, and too often be led astray. Is it immoral to eat meat? Some would say yes. If they say it loud enough, we could have a real problem. And it really looks like that's what happened here - it looks like Chicago lawmakers were giving the squeaky wheel the grease, not really caring about what makes their citizens good people.
And that's the second problem. This law isn't really designed to make citizens good people. This is just about hurting the foie gras industry. There's a ton of better ways to make sure people aren't complicit in cruelty to animals. A wide-spread educational campaign alerting people to the inhumane treatment of the ducks would probably work wonders in reducing the number of Chicagoans who eat foie gras. A law saying that resteraunts can only cook foie gras with animals that weren't force-fed would probably be even better. Then, people can still eat the food they want, but won't have the cruelty-to-animals bit attached. Heck, I don't even know if they banned the forced-feeding of ducks. For all I read, I didn't see anything about that. Odds are good, you can probably still be cruel to ducks in the city, you just can't eat the food made from them. So clearly, there are better ways to achieve this same goal.
The point is, this law wasn't really about the moral subject matter. There was the pretense of a noble goal: to make Chicagoans better people.
And then there was the reality: legislators cared more about appeasing a loud lobby group than they did about doing what was best for their citizens.
Destruction leads to a very rough road
But it also breeds creation