France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

December 9, 2008

Duck-killing without the stress

Where I come from — the San Francisco Bay Area –‘foie gras’ is a four-letter word. It’s not that we have anything against haute cuisine — au contraire! — but rather the requisite cruelty to animals that cultivating this delicacy entails. Autrement dit: Force feeding. (Sounds more elegant in French: Gavage.) (A couple of years ago, at a vide grenier or community-wide garage sale (vide grenier = empty the attic)  in Le Bugue, I came across a funnel-like object. “Is that for what I think it’s for?” I asked the vender. “Yes, but, it’s not cruel at all. The animals don’t feel any pain!” Ah oui.)

Frequenting the southwest of France since 2003, and living here in the Dordogne department since August 2007, it’s been hard for me to avoid eating duck, which is kind of like the soul food of the region. If pure foie gras ‘mi-cuit’ is expensive, buying it stuffed in figs is relatively cheap (1.50 Euros at the stand at the twice-weekly Perigueux marché manned by the captain of the marché, and if they’re small, he usually throws in an extra.) And other duck products are downright bon marché: Confit de manchons de canard — drumsticks to you, bub, ‘confit’ meaning they’ve been preserved in their own fat — can be had directly from a producer for as little as six for 3 Euros, enough for two meals. Get a a small tub of duck fat for .50 cents, some potatoes for the same, et voila, pommes sarladois to accompany your fatty duck legs. (Tip: boil the potatoes first for about 10-15 minutes before slicing them into rondelles and fryin’ ’em up in the duck fat, parsley, and if you like fresh garlic.) Duck hearts cost about 1.50 for a meal’s worth, and are better than they sound. Duck necks are .40 cents and over-priced. And the best deal is duck carcasse, which is what’s left after all the other parts, except for the neck, are extracted. Basically for soup, but with enough meat left on it quand meme for a sandwich with some remaining to cast into the soup. The only distasteful part of the task is wondering whether that plastic-like tube channel was in the front or the back of the duck. And just when I thought I’d tried everything, last week at the marche de gras (Fat market to you bub) I discovered duck blood patties. Look like pancake shaped boudins, but are ultimately tasteless and, yes, rubbery.

As you may have divined by now, bon perigourdin, the duck plays a starring role in my diet — en effet, c’est la vedette.  As a conscienteous carnivore, I’ve avoided thinking about the process that gets these various delicacies to my table. Until now.

“L’abattage au top” trumpeted the headline on the front page of the Dordogne supplement to Saturday’s editions of Sud-Ouest. Dateline: Saint-Laurent-sur-Manoire, where, on November 17,  the duck company Espinet SA opened an abattoir able to, er, abatt ‘palmipèdes’ at a rhythm of 8,000 per week, with a target of 500,000 canards annually. Among other reasons behind the new plant, Guillaume Espinet explained to reporter Pierre-Manuel Réault, “the Bergerac factory is saturated. We had to find a better solution.” And quelle solution! In addition to high volume, the new unit has been designed with ergonomy in mind. When I first saw that, I of course thought, “Well, yes, G-d forbid that the ducks suffer from repetitive stress injury on top of everything else.” But in fact — je me suis trompè! Au lieu of being designed to make the *ducks* more comfortable, the ergonomic measures have been taken “with the goal of reducing the ‘pénibilité of work for  the employees,” explained production director Rémy Banon. “For example, they can adjust the height or depth of their podiums.” When killing ducks (so that I can eat them, it must be admitted), surtout il faut etre confortable!

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