Foie Gras is the most controversial ingredient in the American food scene — a sentence that reads just a little bit crazy in a country that has embraced the horrors of factory farming. Last week, California re-banned the sale of foie gras. The delicacy was originally banned in the state back in 2004, a move which was later overturned for being “constitutionally vague” in 2015. now, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California has ruled that the ban can be reinstated. PETA and the Humane Society have begun “popping the champagne” in celebration, while chefs and food lovers bemoan the step backward.
The issue at the center of this conflict is a practice called “gavage” in which geese and ducks are fed with tubes that extend down their throats. It’s not particularly pretty — in idea or practice — but that’s not to say that it’s fully monstrous either. Compared to clandestine chicken farm videos, it seems downright kind. In truth, your reaction to gavage offers a window into what level of dominion you feel humans deserve over animals. If you believe we have the right to harvest animals in general, it’s doubtful that you’ll have a particular problem with foie gras, in specific. Not when our chicken practices seem to be so much more cruel.
Let’s take a moment and look at the science and reality of what foie gras is and how it’s made. What we aim to do here is provide you with the science and facts so that you can decide whether or not the foie gras produced in the United States is something you want to eat.
WHAT IS FOIE GRAS?
Foie gras is fattened duck or goose liver. It’s buttery, luscious, nutty, and — if you’re a meat eater — almost unarguably delicious. Seared or turned into a pâté or torchon, foie gras is the mountaintop of many a gourmand’s paths to food glory. Yet this one morsel of food is highly contentious. Animal welfare groups have been fighting the production of foie for decades by claiming the gavage process cause the livers to become “diseased.” The word is quoted for a reason — it’s heavily debated.
The practice of the gavage is much older than French cuisine. It reaches as far back at 4,500 years ago, when ancient Egyptians used gavage to fatten up their ducks for their menus (there are hieroglyphics of this). So this is a very, very old practice that has survived eons of human development. It’s a practice that was perfected several millennia ago mostly because it works. But, we get it, shoving a tube down a bird’s throat still sounds and looks deplorable, even carved in ancient Egyptian stone.