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Foie Gras Phobia Meets Its Match in Maryland

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I tell restaurateurs and chefs that there is one organization that you need to join — and that’s your local state association (and in our case here, the District as well) and with it comes membership in the National Restaurant Association. Who has the time to watch every whim, regulation and potential law that comes into the minds of the politicos who often make a move for show and live for sound bites over substance. Once you join the Association, they work for you to help protect you from the misguided and ill-informed. Take foie gras … or not. That’s your choice and the market will determine if its position in the marketplace. If no one wants foie gras … if no one buys foie gras … guess what — no one will sell foie gras.

In the endless debates leading up to the months away presidential election, I have yet to see foie gras on the list of critical subjects. Where does it fall … no, not top ten … let’s be honest not even in the top 2,000. But for a hot moment, foie gras joined the legislative agenda in Maryland … and the Restaurant Association of Maryland mobilized the chefs and restaurateurs of the state to beat back the effort to not only ban foie gras in food establishments but to ban its transport across the state. Led by Association VP Melvin Thompson, the homework was done, the information/facts gathered and off they went to Annapolis — organized and vigilant. Thank you Melvin and the team of supporters you met with in Annapolis. Melvin is the foodie in the center in the suit and power tie — he knows how to get it done.

The legislation that would have removed foie gras from Maryland restaurant menus was withdrawn today by the sponsors. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-43, Baltimore City) and Delegate Tanya Shewell (R-5A, Carroll County), would have banned the production, transport and sale of foie gras in Maryland. There are no foie gras farms in Maryland.

“This is a critical win for restaurants because banning foie gras would have set a precedent for banning other menu items,” said Melvin Thompson. “The activists who protest the serving of foie gras have also protested poultry at fried chicken chains and veal served at many Italian restaurants. Banning foie gras was only the beginning.”

RAM credits the grassroots efforts of its members for helping to kill this legislation. Restaurateurs made phone calls to legislators, sent e-mails, met personally with the bill sponsors and testified against the bill at a Senate hearing. Melvin thanked the following industry representatives who participated in the Senate hearing: Sergio Vitale of Aldo’s, Michael Gettier of Antrim 1844, John Carter of Brewer’s Art, Erik Rochard of Café de Paris, Cindy Wolf of Charleston, John Walsh of Chef’s Expressions, Dan Wecker of Elkridge Furnace Inn, Francesco Marra of Euro Gourmet, Erik Oosterwijk of Fells Point Wholesale Meats, Brian Boston of Milton Inn and Steven Miller of Puttin’ on the Ritz.

After learning of the victory, Sergio Vitale of Aldo’s Restaurant in Baltimore said, “it a good feeling to know that legislators listened to our concerns, allowed us to correct the misinformation surrounding this issue, and we won.”

California passed legislation in 2004 to ban the production and sale of foie gras. However, the new law does not become effective until 2012. The City of Chicago banned the sale of foie gras in 2006. Other proposals to ban the sale and/or production of foie gras have failed in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Philadelphia and Washington.

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

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