the last days of foie…

How many of you like foie gras? Okay, with foie, I should use the terms “love” or “hate.” Usually, there’s no in-between with “the foie.” Go ahead, raise your hands with resounding enthusiasm, or scowl with distain. My arms – both, are raised and waving with excited approval.

Do you like/dislike foie because of its taste, texture, or despite/because of the way foie is produced? If you like it, how do you like it prepared, au torchon or seared?

For those of you who may not be familiar with foie gras, it is the “fatty liver” of geese, or more usually, duck. How does this liver get so fatty? Well, naturally, migrating birds like geese and ducks go through seasonal feeding cycles where they are able to store extra fat in their systems to sustain them on long migration flights home. Early Egyptians on the Nile, a crossing point for migrating birds noticed this cycle and took advantage of it. A fresco painting in an Egyptian tomb dating back 4,500 years depicts a slave feeding figs to ducks to fatten them for their liver. Thus, a delicacy was born.


Foie Gras Posted by Hello
From the Egyptians, and via the French, 4,500 years later, Americans now enjoy this luscious treat thanks to two major domestic producers: Sonoma Foie Gras in California and Hudson Valley in New York. These bicoastal giants have dominated the American foie market… but perhaps not for much longer. As you probably know, animal rights activists and organizations like the Humane Society of the U.S. have put pressure to ban the controversial production of foie gras.

Primarily, these groups allege that the “force-feeding” techniques employed by foie producers are inhumane and cruel to the birds. Among their complaints, they particularly object to the confinement of ducks and geese to small cages and claim that force-feeding (up to twice a day for two weeks or more) causes the livers to engorge uncomfortably up to 8 times their normal size.

Apparently, these cries have not fallen on deaf ears. One sympathetic (or, perhaps backed into a corner) Governor has come to the overfed ducks’ rescue. Last September (2004), California Governor Schwarzenegger, to the applause of many, signed California SB 1520 outlawing the harvesting of foie gras from force-fed animals in the year 2012. (A similar bill has been introduced into the New York State Legislature).

While Schwarzenegger garnered praise for his “politically correct” and “environmentally friendly” act, similar anti-foie sentiments have caused grumbling in the culinary realm. In the past two weeks, much ado has been done to the news that Chicago’s Charlie Trotter opposes the use of foie gras and has banned it from his menu. Apparently, Trotter has abstained from serving it at his eponymous restaurant for a few years, but only recently “came out” about his foie fears.

That such an esteemed haute cuisine chef would snuff the highly regarded liver seems unconscionable. And, indeed, Mr. Trotter has been the butt of much grumbling… like this catty exchange captured in this week’s “Dish” section of the Chicago Magazine. (see also this from the “Editorial Notebook” of the New York Times).

For those of you who turn your noses at foie gras for animal welfare reasons, I understand your side. However, if you are not a vegetarian, have you considered the ways in which all the other animal products you consume are produced? I should say, they are despicable. Have you heard about the poor chickadees knocked up on horomones in cramped quarters? Cows who are fed… well, let’s not go there…

So… as for me, both my hands are still up and waving for the foie – and I think they always will. Perhaps, if I have enough time and resources, I shall visit the good people at the Hudson Valley or Sonoma to check out the conditions under which foie is produced. I would very much appreciate the opportunity. But, I am not convinced that Hudson Valley or Sonoma mistreat their ducks and geese any more (in fact, I’d bet they don’t mistreat them more) than other animal product industries. While I understand that it is no argument to justify mistreatment of one animal because others are treated just as badly, or worse, I do think that there are more pressing and bigger health/animal welfare issues to confront.

~ by ulterior epicure on April 6, 2005.

10 Responses to “the last days of foie…”

  1. Name one, UE! Yes, chickens are kept in cramped quarters, etc, and so are cows. But the foie gras geese are probably kept in those close quarters AND force fed using steel pipes. They are clearly treated worse. In addition, the question is whether a particular harm to animals can be justified by the benefit to humans. when you eat chicken, you are consuming valuable protein. Some people are allergic to soy, etc., and eating meat may be the most practical way for them to get high-quality protein (I’m not one of them, and I am moving towards vegetarianism). With foie gras, it’s just artery clogging land- animal fat, which can be completely eliminated from the diet. (The essential fatty acids are most common in vegetable oils and fish). I think it is the rich who need to make the first sacrifices. I don’t want to tell the working mother of four that she can’t feed her kids chicken, but a person rich enough to eat foie gras (a completely frivolous food) should be expected to make sacrifices.
    When I buy meat, I usually get it at a place like Trader Joes, which generally buys from suppliers who treat their animals better. I am aware of the problem of mistreatment of animals. But some of the worst offenders are the “snob” foods like milk-fed veal and foie gras, foods that in addition to being products of cruelty, have no nutritional justification.

  2. lmark.

    your sentiments are well taken. however, i would have to say that numerous reports have shown that “foie gras farms” treat their livestock better than many industrial poultry farms. fish farms also have come under attack for inadequate conditions and pose environmental hazards.

    also, while i agree that foie gras is a far cry from “nutritious” compared to lean meats (e.g., chicken breasts), foie gras, taken in moderation (like all things should), is no more harmful than using butter, eggs, cream, or any other high fat animal product to “enhance” the flavor of food. in fact, pound for pound, foie gras contains nearly HALF the calories and fat as butter! additionally, foie gras contains iron and other essential vitamins and minerals.

    surely, i am not advocating a daily diet of foie gras, nor even a regular diet of foie. neither do i advocate “sacrificing” the chicken (or whatever other cruel animal) industry at the expense of saving the foie industry. both can and SHOULD exist. i just think that given the disparity of animal treatments, the foie industry should not be the first to be attacked.

    lastly, this has NOTHING to do with rich vs. poor. I think it’s a cop out to lower this debate to that level. this is simply about the right to practice a business that is viable, doesn’t infringe on others, doesn’t endanger the environment, and to NO scientific proof does it harm the animals.

    thanks for posting lmark!

    u.e.

  3. Your points are well taken. I started reading your blog, after I found out that you had tracked back to mine, you had cited an entry, interestingly enough, in which I discussed, inter alia, animal rights. I consider the use of animals to be one of those moral grey areas, and it is more justifiable when human health (medical research, cheap protein) is at stake.
    I have trouble believing that foie gras geese are better treated than industrial chickens. My biggest concern (only natural coming from someone as hyperactive as myself) is that the animals don’t have a chance to roam around. Of course, most chickens do not have this ability, but I highly suspect, as the foie gras geese are raised to be a fatty as possible, that their mobility is probably as restricted, if not more, as that of factory farmed chickens.
    I guess I just get a little morally queasy at the thought of artificially inducing medical problems like fatty liver (in the case of foie gras) or anemia (in the case of veal). As far as “scientific proof” is concerned, it would be very difficult for me to prove that I am sentient, let alone an animal. However, I think there is plenty of eveidence that these animals do possess some primitive sentience. If they are sentient, I think it would be obvious that these animals are harmed.

  4. P.S.: I don’t know what gender you are, but if you are a guy, I would not consider iron to be all that essential (most guys get more than enough from any decent diet, as we don’t lose a lot of it every month).
    In any case, these nutrients would be available in regular liver (ugh!) and whole grains.

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