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.
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.