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?