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Does a Duck Have a Soul?

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Never mind the larger questions of animal rights, Pease says. The foie gras industry simply crosses the line, even for the most avid beef eater. Still, as a devout vegan, he is well versed in the issues regarding, say, the value of a chimp’s life as compared with that of a human. “Though I guess it depends on which human you mean,” he jokes. “Are we talking about Michael Ginor?”

Ginor can’t resist a jab of his own. “Protesters create so much attention to foie gras that we’re selling more than ever,” he says, savoring the irony. “A chef I know in Cleveland told me that every time they have a protest, he sells more foie gras. I should fire my lobbyist and hire these guys.”

Ginor’s office is not upstate but on a leafy street in Great Neck; the walls are covered in awards, most of which are in the form of plates and platters. Lounging behind his stainless-steel desk, he gestures emphatically with his powerful right arm while the other lies fallow on the metal, as if his recent entry into the realm of gray has left half of him out of the conversation. Since it’s a Friday afternoon, Ginor has decided it’s proper to break out some cognac and torch up a Cuban Hoyo de Monterey cigar. “I am not a snob,” he says, his face half obscured by thick white smoke. “But when it comes to cigars, I can’t help myself. Dominicans just aren’t the same.”

On average, Hudson Valley produces some 5,000 ducks a week, or roughly 250,000 a year. Fattened livers are hardly the only product to be sold. There is no part of the duck that goes to waste. Feathers become down comforters. The breast of the foie gras duck, called “magret,” is an unusually rich and popular meat. Legs sell to become confit; fat gets rendered; skin is reborn as pâté; bones go to stock; and feet, testicles, tongues, bills, intestines, gizzards, and hearts are quickly peddled, mainly to Asian clientele. Izzy Yanay likes to say that they “sell everything but the quack.”

Ginor does not exasperate easily, but he won’t countenance accusations of savagery. Ten years ago, he says, he invited the ASPCA to Hudson Valley. The inspectors were given free run of the place, he says, and didn’t issue a single citation (that, despite the organization’s staunch opposition to foie gras production). The American Veterinary Association sent someone a month ago, Ginor says, and—though, here again, the AVA would never come within a light-year of endorsing foie gras—the man said he’d never seen such a well-run facility.

“The foie gras issue is separate from whether people should eat meat,” says an anti–foie gras activist. “These people are animal-torturing, psychotic extremists.”

“Our feeders are paid a bonus, did you know that?” Ginor asks. “Each gets 300 ducks at the beginning of the month, and at the end, we grade them on how many they bring back and the quality of the ducks’ livers. They treat those ducks like their children!”

That said, the image problems remain. Ginor says his farm’s mortality rate is about 3.5 percent (a fraction of that seen on general poultry farms), so basic math dictates that about 8,500 ducks a year won’t live to be slaughtered. “Of that number, it only takes four or five dead ducks in a barrel to look bad,” Ginor says.

While Ariane Daguin is agonizing over the possibility of a New York law banning production, Ginor is technically supporting it. Actually, it’s more than that—he and his lobbyists helped write it. Faced with the prospect of being hobbled by a new law every year, Ginor would rather have a decade to move his facilities to foie gras–friendly terrain. “I’m cooperating with this new bill because I can’t have a legislative guillotine hanging over my head year after year. I have 200 employees to think of. I know that sounds holier-than-thou, but . . .” If Hudson Valley is shut down, Ginor says, he has a fistful of options. Canadian commerce officials have come south to woo him. “We could also move parts of the operation to an Indian reservation, or to Connecticut, or North Carolina. Or I could just walk away, do something else.”

Only last week, anticipating passage of the new law, Ginor got word that the sponsor of the measure, Senator John Bonacic, had made an abrupt turnabout and now believed it would not pass during this session. But the news did little to console Ginor; as far as he knows, legislation that’s introduced in the very near future will ban production in less than the ten years for which he and his lobbyists have fought.

Ginor stares at the plates on his office walls, at the Venetian-glass urns of silver-painted duck eggs, at all the foodie memorabilia he has collected in the glory days of foie gras. He sees the writing on the wall. Even France—France! Consumer of 80 percent of all the foie gras on Earth, where even cabbies eat it—is coming under pressure from the European Community to close up shop. The day may soon come, Ginor fears, when foie gras is produced only in China and India. With nightfall, the window behind him has become as perfectly black as the perfect white of his cigar smoke. He shakes his head. “Funny thing,” he says. “I’m responsible for the founding and branding of Hudson Valley and popularizing foie gras in the United States. And now I am helping to write the law that could end it.”


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