Foie gras is terrifying.
Do not get me wrong. The thought of a light brioche bun hugging a burger made of foie gras, embellished with soft brie, then dusted with a handmade honey mustard and a huckleberry smear sounds scrumptious. This burger seems like the love child of American and French cuisine. As a butter-eating American, I would approve. Though upon Googling foie gras, I am left viewing this burger as heedlessly decadent.
The reality of foie gras — goose or duck liver — may leave many with upset stomachs. The rich meat is the culmination of gavaging — overfeeding of the liver — which is often forced onto poultry. Funneled via a metal tube down the throat, the fowl consumes a tremendous amount of grain or cornmeal to enlarge the liver to 600 percent its natural size. By doing so, the fowl liver has been pedestaled as heavenly delicacy. As Dan Barber, a renowned chef of American and French cuisine insists: “It’s so freakin’ delicious … It is fatty, it is sweet, it is silky, it is unctuous. It makes everything else you put it with incredible.”
Yet does this justify the treatment that the fowl endure?
In some countries, foie gras has been legislatively banned as a product that restaurants can sell. In California, a 2012 ban on its sale has also been in place until a district judge recently overturned it, arguing that there is a conflict between state and federal law over the product’s regulation. As of now, foie gras can be enjoyed with a craft beer or a whimsical cocktail at restaurants — however you might find a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) staring daggers at you with a picket sign in hand.
Due to the lifted ban, PETA has been protesting Californian restaurants that serve foie gras with outrageous death threats. Usually, PETA cannot be taken seriously due to their spectacular style of protesting that contradicts their causes. For example, throwing pig’s blood onto women wearing fur coats or rubbing said blood onto one’s face to horrify employees of food corporations is a just not a constructive method to promote animal rights. (Though kudos to them for accomplishing an accurate rendition of “Silence of Lambs” or “Carrie.”) Yet PETA’s unnecessary violent actions do mirror the unnecessary violent gavaging.
As Robert Kenner’s “Food, Inc.” exposes, raising animals for consumption is not a pretty picture. Foie gras fowl are often raised for 12 weeks in dirty enclosures and live the last two to three weeks of their lives strapped onto holding mechanisms as feeding tubes are forced upon them, three times a day. While some humane enclosures do exist, such as the La Belle Farms, the number of abusive enclosures counteract those few safe havens.
However, truth be told, these fowl are not enduring a practice that is completely new to them. When temperatures lower, geese and ducks willingly gorge on greens in preparation for their long migrations south for the winter. They are able to do so with no gag reflex stopping their consumption … to the point that they can swallow a live, smaller bird with no damage to their throats. (YouTube can verify the cannibalistic truth.) Naturally, these fowl have livers perfect for foie gras, which is how it was originally discovered — not from someone stuffing a goose with grain, but from noticing the natural, sweet fat that geese maintain over the winter.
If this lifted ban is to continue in California, then new restrictions should be imposed to allow the foie gras fowl that is sold to naturally grow and still deliver a high-quality product. And this can be done. The award-winner of the Coups de Coeur, practically the equivalent of an Olympic gold medal for quality food, Eduardo Sousa, has proven foie gras can be organically produced in mass amounts, while still maintaining a happy environment for the geese — to the point that wild geese willingly end up living on his foie gras farm. There’s nothing wrong with raising animals for food, rather it is the methods that are cruel.
So, if you find yourself with the aforementioned craft beer or whimsical cocktail in hand and a plate of foie gras placed on the table, please keep this in mind: Geese do not indulge themselves for slaughter, they do so to survive. And we are not surviving — we are indulging.