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D’Artagnan, a twenty-four-year-old, New Jersey-based company, bills itself as “the favorite food purveyor of chefs.” If you’ve ever bought foie gras, guinea hen, or wild boar bacon from an upscale grocer, chances are you have eaten D’Artagnan products.
Owner Ariane Daguin, who like Dumas’s D’Artagnan hails from France’s Gascony region, drew her inspiration for the Duckathlon from a French wine competition.
"I always dreamed of doing something close to what they have in Paris, the Marathon des leveurs de coude,” she tells reason. “Where you go to all the St. Germain cafes, and you drink at every café, and you are in a team formation. Except I wanted it to be more gastronomic."
Though a culinary challenge and promotional event first, Daguin also sees the Duckathlon as an opportunity to push back against the food police, calling it a “counterbalance to people who are trying to limit our choice in food and life.”
The Chelsea Market, near the edge of the Meatpacking District, was home to this year’s event—though D’Artagnan kept the site secret to all but competitors and press, no doubt to discourage the appearance of foie gras protestors who, like pretentious cockroaches, seem to materialize only where excellent food is served.
Most of the twenty Duckathlon events took place at restaurants and bars immediately around the market. The challenges were often as surreal as those faced by D’Artagnan and his fellow musketeers. In the Saucisson Fan-Dangle, contestants donned hoop skirts and—in repeated squats—blindly maneuvered an especially phallic sausage, tied at the waist, into the opening of a milk jug as many times possible within a two-minute time limit.
I found Scott Gold, blogger and author of a recently published meat paean, The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, manning the Testicle Festival challenge. Gold, a Brooklyn resident, defends meat eating, and staunchly opposes foie gras bans. Still, he supports the city’s menu-labeling requirements, and isn’t so sure where he stands on the city’s trans fat ban.
“As far as banning trans fats, I don’t know if that’s such a great idea,” Gold tells reason. “But then again, trans fats are useless. I don’t see any reason, as long as you’re cooking decent food, that you should have trans fat at all.”
The tenor of Gold’s comments is echoed by Josh Ozersky, who edits the Grub Street food blog for New York magazine.
“I don’t think, in its upper reaches, New York City is a food nanny state at all,” says Ozersky, also author of the recently published The Hamburger, to reason. “It’s closer to a sybaritic free-for-all.”
Ozersky and Gold are probably both right. The city’s worst food laws don’t really impact those in the “upper reaches” who choose to eat subjectively “decent food.”
So while the city has hundreds of outstanding restaurants, each likely claiming thousands of devoted customers, it also has millions of residents who can’t afford (or be bothered) to eat in them. Those people instead frequent the inexpensive chain restaurants city regulators target.
New York City might be foodie heaven, but if you’re an eater rather than a gastronome, regulators are increasingly futzing with your food. The food really under fire in New York City right now is not that eaten by, for example, billionaire Michael Bloomberg—whose mayoral manse chefs competed at the Duckathlon—but by everyday diners.
Still, the vigilance of Daguin, her staff, and Duckathlon participants is as important as it is admirable.