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1st December

First Published in The New York Sun, December 1, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn have come up with a plan to name a food policy “tsar.” Just what we need.

Not content to wait until the tsar is crowned, Council Member Alan Gerson threatened to get a head start on things by introducing a ban on the sale of foie gras here in Gotham. His proposal will be used as the opening wedge by animal rights activists ultimately to ban the sale of meat.

For the moment, cooler heads have prevailed, as Mr. Gerson has held off for “further study.” But one can be sure that this bill will resurface. A similar ban was recently passed in Chicago, and New York’s municipal government seems even more committed to regulating and legislating what we decide to eat and drink.

Foie gras is the enlarged liver of ducks which have been fed large amounts of food through a process known as gavage. It has been used for centuries. From most accounts, the ducks willingly submit to the procedure, which takes less than half a minute. Feeding ducks in this way two or three times a day for two to four weeks doesn’t seem as “inhumane” as the inevitable end that farm-raised ducks have to look forward to, whether raised for foie gras or to be converted deliciously to Peking Duck and hang in the window of a restaurant in Chinatown.

Raising animals for food has never been a pretty industry, and to those who equate the lives of animals with those of humans, it is something that must be ended on moral grounds. But ducks are not people. Maybe we should blame the late Mel Blanc. Could it be that the anti-meat activists have watched too many cartoons that give animals human voices and personalities?

It is not the feeding of the ducks that upsets the activists, but the killing. Foie gras is a convenient target to use to open the door to a total ban on the production of meat and poultry. Foie gras is an expensive product that few of us indulge in. The message is that rich folks are torturing ducks for the production of an expensive vanity treat. This mixing of class warfare by the animal rights movement is deliberate and was previously used in the campaign against fur.

New Yorkers might like to think that Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn aren’t buying into this, but they’re not going to like the implications of appointing a food tsar. Already topping the list of assignments for the new tsar will be to make sure that poor folks are given healthy food choices. Especially targeted are the city’s thousands of bodegas.

I have some experience with bodegas, having lived in the Bronx all of my life. Initially bodegas were confined to Hispanic neighborhoods. Catering to recent arrivals, they sold esoteric products, along with some everyday staples. Today bodegas are a more generic phenomenon, a place to pick up a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, beer, and cigarettes. They are wonderful institutions that help make New York so livable.

Though they exist in some form in most neighborhoods, bodegas have been associated with poorer neighborhoods. The administration and the council simply can’t resist the paternalistic agenda of making choices for the poor that they surely must be incapable of making themselves. Mr. Bloomberg believes that low-fat or non-fat milk is better for you than whole milk. So since the beginning of the year, the city has worked to take whole milk off the shelves of 200 bodegas, replacing it with the “healthier” varieties. This is now to be expanded to 1,000 stores, which will also be encouraged to replace sugared sodas with diet soda and to stock more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Those who buy sugared soft drinks don’t do so because the diet drinks are unavailable. I have yet to encounter a retailer who didn’t sell diet soft drinks. It is my experience that the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New York is eager to please. They will supply the bodegas or any other retail outlet with regular Coke, Diet Coke, flavored Coke, or any and all variations on the drink that the public demands.

Will it be the assignment of the food tsar to limit those choices to only those that the mayor and speaker deem acceptable? Do they have a preference between sodas sweetened with NutraSweet or Splenda?

But then again, why shouldn’t the council try to control what you eat and drink? They already have limited the number of places you can buy food and other goods at low prices by closing the city to “big box” stores such as Wal-Mart.

Perhaps they feel that by denying New Yorkers discount buying opportunities, our foolish citizens will have less money to waste on unhealthy eating. Perhaps there is a fear that some New Yorkers may actually save enough at Wal-Mart to add foie gras to their diets.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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