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Pamela Anderson Lends Star Power To Fight Against Foie Gras In France

Former<em> Baywatch</em> star Pamela Anderson (right) holds a news conference in Paris on Tuesday against the production of foie gras.
Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson (right) holds a news conference in Paris on Tuesday against the production of foie gras.

Former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson showed up at the French Parliament Tuesday to speak out for animal rights. A French congresswoman is trying to put an end to what critics call a cruel practice to animals. It also happens to be central to one of France's most cherished culinary delicacies: foie gras.

Anderson said she was following the example of Brigitte Bardot, another sex-symbol-turned-animal-rights-activist. As a young girl, Anderson said, she was inspired when Bardot visited Canada in the '70s to condemn the slaughter-by-clubbing of baby seals.

"In many national cultures, there seems to be at least one cruel tradition that stands out as identifying that culture," said Anderson. "Be it the bullfight in Spain, eating dogs in Korea, the slaughter of dolphins and whales by Japan or the bloody and obscene massacre of seals in my own native Canada."

And in France, it's the making of foie gras, Anderson said. She described how 80 million ducks and geese live out their final weeks in caged anguish as they are force-fed to fatten their livers, through metal tubes shoved down their throats. She said the animals lead lives of misery and suffering for a nonessential luxury food.

Anderson called foie gras a product unworthy of a civilized society.

But foie gras is a favorite delicacy in France. Especially during the holiday season. No Christmas or New Year's table would be complete without a tray of raw oysters and a block of creamy foie gras to spread on little toasts.

French congresswoman Laurence Abeille has introduced a bill to ban force-feeding. She says a recent poll shows 70 percent of the French now oppose the practice.

"A lot of young people are vegetarians, and a lot of young people want to have a different relationship with the living world, and that includes animals," says Abeille.

But Abeille says it's hard to fight tradition.

Generally, treating farm animals well is seen as something important in France. For example, the French are horrified by massive feedlots for cattle in the U.S., where the beasts are exposed to cold and heat and fed corn. French beef cattle roam freely and graze on grass and hay. And there are laws against mistreating animals for profit. But Abeille says when it comes to foie gras, there seems to be a blind spot.

She admits her bill has no chance of passing. But she wants to start the debate. She already has.

Foie gras producers and the powerful French hunting and fishing lobby lashed out immediately at what they called a show biz assault against a wholesome tradition.

France produces 20,000 tons of foie gras a year, and exports it around the world. Its biggest markets are Belgium, Japan and Spain. But 20 countries have now banned force-feeding and the making of foie gras. (Last year, a federal judge overturned California's foie gras ban.)

Polls or no, it doesn't look as if France will be abandoning this gastronomic tradition any time soon.

Around the corner from the French parliament building in Paris is a cozy bistro that offers its own "house-prepared" foie gras.

Garance Journot and Marie Dupont are enjoying a meal together. The young women say even though they're against what they've heard is a cruel practice, they're not going to give up foie gras.

"It's too much a part of French culinary tradition," says Journot. "When we eat it, we don't even ask ourselves the question."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.