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Thursday, 23 January 2014

Writing on the wall.

I've always found myself exploring the uses for what is considered public property. I like to question things. Why can't I put a sign here? How about a bit of performance art in the middle of the city centre? Why shouldn't we stage a protest here? What's the problem with dyeing the city fountains pink for a few days?

These might sound like trivial issues in the grand scheme of corruption, media manipulation, totalitarianism and all that, but really our freedom over who can use 'public' spaces - and how - gives an insight into more pressing issues. Applying for permits and the like can be a slow, expensive, frustrating process and unless you can throw cash at the situation you'll often receive a negative response.

Perhaps this explains my increasing fascination with graffiti and other 'street art'. Read my latest article in North London paper, The Kentishtowner, about local artists, their motivation, turf wars and Banksy versus King Robbo!

Read The Kentishtowner article here

Foie Gras Gate

Foie gras is one of those dividers - like Marmite, Thatcher and Crocs; there is a tendency to love or loathe. Foie gras is produced by fattening the livers of geese and ducks, a process that stretches back as far as ancient Egypt when slaves were instructed to find novelties to impress the pharaoh.

Whilst France is both the largest producer and consumer of foie gras today, it seems to be finding favour with more and more restaurants and gastro pubs closer to home. Those who rave about the stuff insist that the buttery taste and creamy consistency merit the controversial production methods, notably the gavage process which involves force feeding the birds by inserting a tube down their esophagus and into the stomach. However I'm yet to find an enthusiast who maintains this point of view with first hand knowledge of being force fed and the agony it entails.

When casually flicking through last month's Kentishtowner I came across the Christmas menu for the ever popular Kentish Canteen - oh dear. Now, much as I love my role as cocktail waitress in the underground speakeasy, Shebeen - and although I wouldn't need to serve the foie gras starter myself - I suddenly lost all desire to be part of an establishment that considered it an acceptable product to sell. I felt I could no longer do my job as staying employed there felt tantamount to complicity. I didn't want to do my job well in case I inadvertently encouraged repeat business who might go on to buy foie gras.

In case this sounds over the top, it is worth remembering that the overwhelming majority of foie gras sold in the UK has been produced by keeping the birds in cages the size of their bodies - no movement whatsoever. The gavage process often results in internal bleeding, organ failure and disease; in fact on average twenty per cent of birds on foie gras farms die before slaughter. Such is the acknowledged horror of production methods that Prince Charles won't even allow it to feature on royal menus.

Kudos to Dave and the team at Kentish Canteen - once I highlighted the issue, (possibly) stamped my feet and had several in-kitchen debates with chef, they removed foie gras and made the decision to pursue a more ethical menu. I can continue to enjoy serving delectable drinks from Louis' inspired new menu with a clear conscience! Normal service resumed. Incidentally, in recent months XO at fancy Belsize Park joined the cool crew and also ditched the foie.

A couple of foie enthusiasts have claimed they 'couldn't live without' the stuff - dramatic. Incidentally, I discovered a Spanish producer, Eduardo Sousa whose birds have a better life (and death) than most animals produced for meat in the UK today. Sousa works on the basis that once a year his geese naturally gorge on food in preparation for migration, he simply provides the most conducive environment for this to occur. His birds are genuinely free range, and he states that "I've always eaten foie without guilt, knowing that I'm consuming a product where the animal was never treated badly. And that for me is fundamental." Sousa produces one thousands geese a year for foie gras, whereas many farmers with more traditional industrial methods can produce four thousand a day. Sadly, it's here where the problem lies. Sousa's 'ethical' approach to producing foie gras costs more money than the battery farmed, force fed version - costs which must be passed on to the customer. If you like it that much, get your pennies out.

Watch De Sousa's 'ethical' foie gras production

It's reassuring to see people are becoming increasingly aware - not only of the cruelty involved in so much of today's food production, but also aware of our ability to change things. By taking a stand Kentish Canteen exercised their ability to make a very real difference - something that people seem to forget. How we spend our money has a significant impact on the development of society; you have the ability to make the world a little less cruel, sometimes just by paying a little more for certain products, so use your spending power wisely!