The foie gras police are back on the job,
patrolling the poultry farms of the Golden State in search of mistreated ducks
and geese. Last week, California’s Ninth Circuit reinstituted the ban on foie gras production which had been
temporarily legalized by a 2015 federal court decision.
The law in
question is California S.B. 1520, which prohibits the force feeding of a bird
“for purposes of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond it’s normal size.” It
originally went into effect on July 1, 2012, supported by a coalition of animal
rights organizations. It was found to be unlawful in January 2015, and
overturned on appeal on September 15.
who live outside the fine dining universe, foie
gras (which translates as “fat liver”) is the French technique of forcing a
feeding tube down the throat of a duck or goose, in a process known as gavage. Opponents of the practice also
object that the birds are confined to a cage that restricts movement.
Ironically, it may not even necessary to do this: some evidence suggests that
free-range ducks and geese, given an endless food supply, may overeat to the
point where their livers become distended anyway.
Even so, the
traditional French technique was transplanted to the U.S. and widely used to
support the production of foie gras when
its consumption became chic and trendy. Chefs who oppose the ban maintain that
the birds’ esophagus is more flexible than that of humans, and that no cruelty
is involved. The law posed a difficult situation for producers in both the
Sonoma and Hudson Valleys, as well as restaurants catering to an upscale
If you pull
back for a moment and look at the situation unemotionally, you’d question why
animal rights activists are so focused on this. Almost everyone knows that
slaughterhouse conditions are horrific, that livestock and poultry are
subjected to widespread tortures before their death. We also know that upscale
steak houses have experienced exponential growth over the past few decades. So
why are we so upset about foie gras?
The simple answer could be it’s a fight that activists can win: it’s far easier to take away someone’s foie gras than it is to deprive them of their $70 porterhouse. Focusing on foie gras is symbolic, a method of suggesting that animals are being tortured for the pleasure of the rich (even though far more diners are consuming that $70 porterhouse every day, washed down by a bottle of $200 California Cabernet). Obviously, everyone must decide where they come to rest on the food chain. The inconvenient truth of this situation is that if you choose to eat meat, you’re probably ingesting the flesh of an animal that has been tortured. Protecting an overfed duck or goose may make you feel better.