California Foie Gras Sparks Debate

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California's culinary landscape is set to change this Sunday, when the state will prohibit the production and sale of foie gras.

PETA calls foie gras, meaning "fatty liver," the "Delicacy of Despair." The fattening of the duck's liver is achieved, usually, through a process called gavage, when a person force-feeds a duck or goose up to 4 pounds of corn daily. French law requires that, but outside of France, foie gras is sometimes produced using "natural" feeding. 

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The ban has pitted many renowned chefs and foodies against animal rights activists. The former includes C.H.E.F.S., the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards. Victor Scargle, executive chef at Lucy at Bardessono in Yountville, CA, sums up the organization's stance:

It is very important to know and experience where all of the items we use at Lucy are sourced: the lettuce for our green salad, the line-caught sustainable fish, turtle-free shrimp, or the humanely-raised duck. We have a commitment to go to the farms, know how things are grown and raised, and support the farmers who raise and properly grow our products. I am a stickler for quality, and I want California’s standards for foie gras to be something we all can be proud of.

World renowed chefs like him, Thomas Keller, Christopher Kostow and others therefore want to see continued production and sales of foie gras in California, but with more humane standards. Personally, I doubt that the latter is truly possible for this food product, but their plan is obviously preferable to the force feeding, which often involves shoving metal tubes in the bird's mouth and pumping in food.

Countless studies show that animals can suffer from extreme stress during the process before slaughter. This reaction, in turn, can result in stress-induced hormone and cortisoid production. These compounds wind up in the meat that is consumed. Research is ongoing as to how consumption of the compounds can affect our health.

But will the California ban on foie gras will stick? The city of Chicago enacted a similar ban from 2006 to 2008, but it was overturned.

This debate can stir emotions, with many of you probably either horrified by the thought of traditional foie gras production or annoyed that Americans love their meat, burgers and more, but frequently refuse to consider how those products wound up in the market.

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Back in the day, among other gigs, I was a food columnist and recipe developer for organizations like the California Avocado Commission. Remember when you used to see little recipe cards in the produce aisles? Well, now you know where those dishes often originated.

In terms of this issue, my vote is for better organic vegetarian offerings that can satisfy nutritional needs while satisfying hunger and gourmet cravings too. If the cost, quality and taste are right, consumers will be more likely to gravitate toward such items. Give me a Thomas Keller dish like this any day over a plate of foie gras.

(Images: Charles Haynes, Global Action in the Interest of Animals)

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