Bye Bye Foie Gras: Good For Ducks, Bad For Foodies

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Last Monday, I gleefully sat down to a rich plate of foie gras French toast at STK downtown. The lady-friendly steakhouse was packed with stylish people gorging on the same dish I had, plus chewing on steaks laden with creamy foie gras and foie gras butter. The scene was affluent and chic, and starting Sunday, July 1, will not be an experience you can have at STK in California. You also can’t have the foie gras terrine at meat-happy Animal in Los Angeles, or the popular foie gras au torchon at The French Laundry in Yountville.

“Like Chicago, I hope we can realize that the few ways we can enjoy ourselves is to sit around the table and enjoy food,” said French Laundry proprietor Thomas Keller to the Daily Meal during the James Beard Awards. “I hope our representatives in Sacramento realize that the enjoyment around the dinner table is sacred.”

While Keller and many other chefs feel this way, the law, which was passed in 2004 but had aseven-and-a-half-year grace period, aims to stop a practice animal advocates have deemed cruel for a long time—stuffing a feeding tube of fatty food down the throats of geese, ducks, and chickens. With the ban, the production and sale of food stuff resulting from any force feeding of birds that causes their livers to enlarge beyond the normal size, is illegal and comes with a $1,000 fine. That’s right, foie gras just got more expensive.

“That’s a lot of money to flout what is, in essence, a morals clause,” wrote Jonathan Gold in an article for the Los Angeles Times. He continues:

Which raises the question: In a period when New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pushed through a regulation banning supersize soda, California banned the sale of sharks’ fin soup and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked whether the federal government could force an individual to buy broccoli, can kitchen morality be legislated? Do the ban’s largely vegan supporters see it as a first step toward a larger ban on meat? Does a prohibition on products obtained from over-fattened ducks and geese protect animals or erode liberties — or both?

"It’s not just foie gras,"’ says Josiah Citrin, the chef and owner of Mélisse. "Most people don’t eat [it], so they think it doesn’t have anything to do with them. The problem is, what’s the next step, chicken?"

Lucky for me, I live in New York where places like STK can continue to dish out this luxury item, and eating a foie and jelly doughnut at Do or Dine and gorging on Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrated foie gras ganache at Red Rooster isn’t rebellious, but delicious. Despite how you feel about foie gras, just as Gold said, the real question comes down to morals and whether or not force-feeding a bird is cruel. Daily Meal’s Ali Rosen took this question to a duck farm upstate where farmers graciously let her tromp around and talked all about the process, which you can see below. It may surprise you to learn the difference between the way our throats an livers work vs. a bird’s. Readers, what’s your take on this ban?