Friday, March 30, 2007

The most important law

Doug Sohn, proprietor of Hot Doug's and a lifetime resident of our area, was just hit with the city's first foie gras fine of $250. The Tribune story was deliberately crafted to please Mayor Daley, clearly designed to downplay the law, eliminate any sign of contrition from the mayor, officials, or business. Instead, it plays up how much Doug is profiting from the publicity behind the event and also how little enforcement there is likely to be. You can always count on Tribune editors to play subtle political games.

There are a lot of dimensions to the council decision. In December, I pointed out to a skeptical Tribune that the foie gras ban was arguably the most important law passed in our generation, because it taught Mayor Daley several things about the City Council that he doesn't seem to understand: that it should be a forum for the public debate of matters large and small; that a properly functioning body politic can and will arrive at morally correct conclusions; and most importantly, that it should be a place where our representatives can and must disagree with the executive whenever necessary.

The mayor's lack of respect for the self-determination of the council and of Chicago's communities is manifested in his longtime maintenance of political power to control seats in that council. We are not going to see a large dent in his control from this election cycle.

But the more we think about the foie gras ban, the more we think about the personalities and politics involved, and the less we think about the ducks themselves.

We are brought up, and we bring our children up, seeing ducks as cute and comical creatures, with the goofy quacking, the waddling, the curved and smirking beak, the big funny feet. Even the word "duck" can conjure up nothing serious in the mind's eye. The folk-cultural semantic is reinforced in picture books and in Warner Brothers cartoons. The mayor and his media very deliberately played upon these cultural impressions. They relied on them, connecting the comical to the council's activity and ultimately calling the law the "silliest law" the council has ever passed.

Just two weeks ago, I finally took my first trip to Hot Doug's to say hello and try his encased meats. I love the theme of the restaurant and it speaks to Doug's sense of humor. Doug Sohn and I go back 30 years. The Latin School environment was tough on me and my siblings, because we were there on scholarships. Doug was one of my only friends there, and I think it's because he saw the world more compassionately than most blueblood teenagers. Today, he's portrayed in the media as viewing the foie gras ban with a jaundiced, devil-may-care attitude.

I'm not a vegetarian and I'm not an animal-rights activist. But I hope Doug Sohn would agree that you don't need to be one to acknowledge that the foie gras production process is terribly cruel. In fact, it is torture. I hope he would acknowledge that many of his friends and customers feel the same way. (Please consider viewing the YouTube video of the cruelty, produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and narrated by Roger Moore.)

I'm sure I love meat every bit as much as Doug does, and yet I believe we have a solemn duty to treat all animals as humanely as possible. In our consumeristic world, I believe we should renew our consideration for those things that give us sustenance and pleasure. Because of this, I consider it a sin to throw away unfinished food, and I think it's a double sin to divorce ourselves from our responsibility to the animals surrounding us. We shouldn't teach this to our children, we should be conveying and modeling a reverence for the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, those things that were put on the Earth to serve us. I think Doug might agree.

I wonder if we might one day convince our mayor to think the same way about the animals we love to eat.


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