Foie gras-loving Californians better eat up over the next month. Starting July 1, the state ban on foie gras (fattened liver from a duck or goose) will officially take effect. The law was passed in 2004 but included time for restaurants and the state's lone foie gras producer to adjust.
Animal rights activists object to the method with which the ducks and
geese are reared in order to make foie gras. According to the Humane
Society's website, "Foie gras producers shove pipes down ducks' throats
to force feed them far more than they would ever eat. The force feeding
can cause bruising, lacerations, and sores." In the last few weeks of
their lives, the ducks' livers expand from three ounces to over a pound.
Cruel? Absolutely. But many foodies say it's freaking delicious --
richer and butterier than your regular duck liver.
In these last waning days of legal foie gras, California restaurants have been hosting high-end fois gras dinners, and residents have reportedly
been stockpiling it at jacked-up costs of $60 a pound.
But don't expect the added attention to the cruelty of foie gras to prompt South Florida chefs to voluntarily ban it from their menus. Truth is,
chefs who feature it say it's often a top seller, so if the South
Florida customers are buying it, they're going to continue to serve it.
At the Grateful Palate
, Chef Hector Lopez often has foie gras featured on his menu. He says concerns about foie gras ignore the realities of farming.
"They consider it torture for the animals," Lopez says. "It's been done for
many years. It is a little rough, but so is everything else. What's the difference between the treatment of ducks and geese for foie gras and separating young calves from their mothers to get them to produce more milk? Most people have dairy and don't even think about it."
So far, at least 14 countries have banned the sale of foie gras. But California chefs are fighting back. A group called the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) had organized a petition pressing legislators to lift the ban. At press time, it had over 100 signatures. They are suggesting new regulations that would minimize the duck's and geese's stress by raising them in a cage-free environment and by using feeding procedures that would not hurt a duck's beak, throat, or esophagus.
The chefs may be looking for a product that has been considered to be the best foie gras on earth. In a 2008 Ted talk
, Chef Dan Barber describes the process used by Eduardo Sousa of Pateria de Sousa in Spain. According to Barber, Sousa raises his geese on an idyllic free range farms; no force-feeding involved. How does this work? Sousa waits for the geese to instinctually to gorge themselves in preparation for the harshness of winter. Barber has hailed this method "as listening to natures operating procedures." So far, there has been little success in rearing geese according to these customs in the United States. Force-feeding is by far the dominant method.
In May, Bloomberg interviewed
a few California celebrity chefs. Some were outright ready for battle. Others have just surrendered. According to an email to Bloomberg, Thomas Keller, the three-star Michelin chef at French Laundry, said, "Foie gras is a product that we have enjoyed preparing for our guests through the years and has been a regularly featured item on our menu. But we will certainly comply with the new foie gras ban once it goes into effect."
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