The Foie Faux Pas

photo courtesy of James Carrier for

Come July, residents of California will have to cross some borders to satisfy their liver cravings. Why? Because the sunny state is outlawing foie gras and will charge fines of up to $1000 for those who decide not to abide by the new rule.

Well, it isn’t entirely new. The law to ban the silky delicacy was introduced in 2004, but it won’t go into effect for eight more months (eat all the liver you can now!). Again, why? Because animal rights activists are opposed to the force-feeding methods used to produce the dish. And California, despite its conservative governor Schwarzenegger, is known for being on the forefront of socially liberal law, dinner entrees included.

Foie gras, a dish produced from the liver of a fattened goose, is known for its buttery, rich taste and silky-smooth texture and is categorized in the same high-brow class of fancy foods like caviar and escargot. It’s used as the staple ingredient in eight-course meals and it’s used in milkshakes (the latter is quite excellent, from my own experience). If you’re getting hungry, here’s a recipe.

Foie gras is prepared at Animal, a famed California restaurant, photo courtesy of

This specific animal organ has long been controversial. France, the origin and main proponent of the dish, has endured its fair share of dispute for years. Force-feeding has been banned in most European countries, but France has fought to keep this national dish on plates. And according to foie gras experts, without force-feeding, it wouldn’t be possible.

So, what exactly are these ducks and geese enduring that is so awful? The current force-feeding practices involve sticking a tube down their throats to fatten them up with corn-products. After feeding them in this way for a 12-day period, their livers become over-enlarged (read: ready to be served).

Some experts say that their livers return to normal size if the force-feeding is stopped, and therefore the practice really isn’t so bad. Other experts say that the process renders the animals abnormally large, unable to move properly and damages their esophaguses.

Some experts say the feeding doesn’t cause the animals any suffering – in fact, they waddle as fast as they can to the feeding tubes when it’s time to be fed. Other experts site the fact that more than a million geese and ducks die in France each year as a product of force-feeding.

In France, INRA (the French National Institute for Agricultural Research) conducts most of the research on the production of foie gras. Here’s what raises some eyebrows: the research receives 20% of its funding from the Interprofessional Committee for Foie Gras.

In California, PETA has been the leading force in exposing the truth about the delicacy and asking restaurants to stop serving it even before the law goes into action. Here’s what raises some eyebrows: many restaurants say they will continue to serve the dish even after the fines are enforced. They’ll pay the price to remain gourmet.

California is also home to one of two foie gras producers in the U.S. – the other is in New York, and the rest is imported. Perhaps these businesses should take up truffle-hunting or eclair-making if they want to stay in business.

Perhaps animal activists should lighten up – after all, most of the cattle in the U.S. is force-fed, and not too much is being done about that. Perhaps foie gras activists should develop a more humane way to fatten the livers – after all, no one wants witness animal suffering.

Either way, in California, the ducks are in luck.