Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.
Foie gras…. discuss!
Considering the highly volatile and controversial nature of the subject, it is almost sufficient to just mention this vilified animal product, without taking a stance one way or another, and you have an instant firefight (see comments below). For those a bit unfamiliar with what exactly foie gras might be, it is an arguably delicious pâté-like product derived from the fatty livers of captive ducks and geese who are force fed using the age old French process called “gavage,” which entails putting a metal tube down a duck’s throat to deliver a large amount of corn-based food that causes the liver to enlarge, thus producing a very fatty liver. The results, as I mentioned above, make gourmands go crazy with desire, but they also make animal rights activists go equally, if not more, crazy with rage. The talk of banning foie gras extends back many years (not in France mind you) and now, just days from now the state of California is poised to enact the most significant ban of the sale (and production) of foie gras ever attempted. Predictably animal rights advocates call it justice, while foie gras enthusiasts call it “foie-mageddon.”
California’s first-in-the nation ban on foie gras takes effect this Sunday (July 1st), which prohibits the sale of any product derived from the force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers (The law was passed in 2004, but included a seven-and-a-half-year grace period giving enthusiasts a lot of time to say goodbye). Over the last month, a handful of foie gras proponents and chefs have begun a repeal effort and proposed new ethical standards, in lieu of an out-and-out ban. But attempts to create an “ethical” foie gras product (at least domestically) have not yielded promising results. A few years back, Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill tried his hand at pasture-raised foie gras (as demonstrated by a Spanish farmer) but it never quite took. And there are others who are doing their best to approximate the rich taste and texture of foie gras using slightly more ethically-derived ingredients, like chicken livers and butter. And then there are the vegetarian and vegan approximations, like Faux Gras, which are surprisingly good.
Still, the Californians who love their foie gras are no doubt stockpiling for the coming “foie-mageddon” and likely planning out of state, or out of country, travel to get their fix. But like with California politics and social change, what happens in California first tends to spread to the rest of the country, albeit slowly. So it is only a matter of time, providing this ban holds, that foie gras bans spread around the country – making this notorious and divisive product increasingly more difficult to come by (there are only a handful of places making foie gras domestically).
What is your feeling on the upcoming ban? Do you feel foie gras is terrain (or terrine) where no one should tread? Or do you feel that the cruelty aspect is relative, with other animal products and practices far worse in their treatment of captive animals? Is banning anything the way to raise consciousness?
Related article from www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/foie-gras.aspx/
Foie Gras: Delicacy of Despair
To produce “foie gras” (which literally means “fatty liver”), workers ram pipes down male ducks’ or geese’s throats two or three times daily and pump as much as 4 pounds of grain and fat into the animals’ stomachs, causing their livers to bloat to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds have difficulty standing because of their engorged livers, and they may tear out their own feathers and cannibalize each other out of stress.
The birds are kept in tiny wire cages or packed into sheds. On some farms, a single worker may be expected to force-feed 500 birds three times each day. Because of this rush, animals are often treated roughly and left injured and suffering.
A PETA investigation at Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York (then called “Commonwealth Enterprises”) found that so many ducks died when their organs ruptured from overfeeding that workers who killed fewer than 50 birds per month were given a bonus. Many ducks develop foot infections, kidney necrosis, spleen damage, bruised and broken bills, and tumor-like lumps in their throats. One duck had a maggot-infested neck wound so severe that water spilled out of it when he drank.
Other investigations at Hudson Valley Foie Gras and America’s other leading foie gras producer, Sonoma Foie Gras in California, revealed that ducks were crammed into filthy, feces-ridden sheds and that others were isolated in wire cages that were so small that they could barely move. Investigators also observed barrels full of dead ducks who had choked to death or whose organs had ruptured during the traumatic force-feeding process. The investigators rescued 15 ducks, including two who were being eaten alive by rats because they could not move.
Foie gras is so inhumane that in 2004 California passed a law banning the sale and production of foie gras effective in 2012. Force-feeding has also been outlawed in the U.K., Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Israel.
Join Sir Roger Moore and countless others around the world in refusing to eat foie gras. You can even take one more step by giving up all animal products for one month. Take PETA’s Pledge to Be Vegan for 30 Days, and we’ll send you top tips on the best places to eat out, our favorite recipes, the tastiest animal-friendly snacks, and suggestions for the most delicious prepackaged cruelty-free meals.