Foie Gove

Michael Gove's plan to ban foie gras is an essentially frivolous self-advertisement

Jonathan Meades

The nous to identify a ruse which may even cause him to be liked (Chris McAndrew CC BY 3.0)

Contemplating the forthcoming Attlee/Cripps utopia Winston Churchill remarked: “Give me the 18th-century alley, where footpads lurked and the harlot plied her trade, and none of this new-fangled planning doctrine.” Churchill was of course a far from typical politician and whilst he may have stopped short of Rabelais’s “fais ce que voudras” he certainly lacked the gubernatorial instinct to ban, censor, proscribe, bowdlerise which afflicts life’s prefects. Among them Michael Gove, not the bossiest of men but a craven opportunist with the canny nous to identify a ruse which will appeal to the vulgo and may even cause him to be liked (briefly).

The Aberdonian statesman’s masterstroke has been to announce that post-Brexit — should that neverland ever come to be — he will introduce a ban on the import of foie gras. Indeed, he is so pleased with this stratagem that he has been repeating it regularly for the past year and enjoying the fulsome applause of, inter alia: the doltish Sussex MP Henry Smith (who released the names of the hapless couple wrongly accused of flying drones over Gatwick); the sometime “comedian” Bill Oddie, apparently “the nation’s top birder”; Peter Egan, Big Breadwinner Hog on TV 50 years ago; a woman with a placard; and the former starlet Pamela Anderson, “a turkey stuffed with silicon” who unsurprisingly empathises with “the misery suffered by these very sociable birds” and compares their lot to that of clubbed baby seals.

Gove is doubtless grateful for this galère of stellar supporters. But what distinguishes his proposal is its wide populist appeal to several different and not evidently compatible groupings which are at a stroke moulded into an ad hoc alliance: anti-speciesist agitators; animal rights operatives of varying degree of militancy, activism and self-righteousness; Stop-the-City hoodies whose animus is towards the monstrous crinkly-necked Georg Grosz plutocrats who turn the Square Mile into a charnel house of the poor’s dreams while daily consuming their body weight in foie gras; less regimented class warriors who enjoy a simplistic antipathy towards bloated toffs, “fine dining” and the privately educated.

These figures of obloquy are straw men and women. Some 200 tonnes of foie gras are annually imported by the UK. It is reasonable to suppose that only 5 per cent of the population, 3 million people, eat the stuff (they get a miserable annual ration of 66 grams each). They are the easiest of targets, even easier than the unspeakable harmlessly riding to hounds. Further, the economic consequences of this smugly puritanical self-righteousness will not be felt in Britain.

The losers are French farmers. Who of course just don’t count. Their reprehensible practices surely must justify the gauged and responsible xenophobia of the island race’s yeomen to whom gastronomy is essentially alien and effete. It is improbable that a British politician would have Jacques Chirac’s nuanced take on the culinary paradoxes of his country’s political persuasions: “Those of the Left are la gauche caviar . . . we of the Right are la droite tête de veau.” France takes food seriously.

Britain doesn’t — hence Gove’s freedom to come up with such an essentially frivolous self-advertisement. The man is meant to be a conservative. He ought not to forget that animal-loving Nazis banned force-feeding.

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