- Foie Gras - Yay or Nay? | Le Potimarron

Foie Gras - Yay or Nay?

November 16, 2010

I got 0.529 kg of fresh foie gras.
Who's coming for dinner?  

The animal rights activists are at it again. This time, their target is Providence, a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Los Angeles.

Before I go any further, have you heard of the Bocuse d'Or? Bocuse d'Or is simply the most prestigious cooking competition on the planet; kinda like the Olympics for the culinary world if you will. It's like Iron Chef on steroids.

So anyway, the restaurant is holding a fundraising dinner in honor of the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation, the organisation that selects and supports team USA. The menu would feature LA's best chefs' interpretation of Paul Bocuse's greatest hits, including dodine de canard a l'ancienne or old-school duck dodine.
A dodine is like a terrine but the menu describes the dish as "duck stuffed with foie gras, truffle and pistachio" - wouldn't that be canard farci then? Anyhow, that one dish has created all the brouhaha.

Foie gras is a delicacy made of fattened liver of a duck or goose.

A lobe of fresh foie gras ready to get deveiened,
portioned and tossed into a screaming hot pan. 
The traditional way of achieving this, la gavage or force-feeding has created an uproar amongst the animal welfare crowd. If you google foie gras, you would not be short of horrid videos and images to show you why foie gras is evil.

I personally enjoy eating and cooking foie gras. It's velvety, buttery, miam miam, just splendid.

At this point you may think that I might as well declare that I enjoy drowning kittens in my spare time BUT hear me out. 

Ducks are anatomically different than us mammals.
Our windpipe entrance is placed in the back of our throat while for ducks, it opens in the center of their tongue. They do not have a gag reflex. Their esophagi also comes with an insensitive lining; made to withstand coarse, less delicate items to travel down their throat. They are not gasping for air and are able to breathe during the feeding process. In reputable farms, this process only lasts for about 10 to 15 seconds tops. Also contrary to popular belief, they would not be fed again if they are still full from the previous feeding. 

I have heard some people say that foie gras is a diseased liver. While I could attest to the fact that the size of a normal duck liver and foie gras is indeed different, it does not make the claim true. The bird family stuff their face before the great migration, it is in their nature to do so. Ducks store fat in their liver and this effect is reversible; both in the wild or in farming. So no, it is by no means a diseased liver.

But what about all these dead ducks captured on video with food overflowing from their mouths? Or the precarious living conditions of these little guys, they practically have no space in between them to even flap their wings or shake their little tail feathers!

Just because some industrial farms produce foie gras in inhumane ways, it does not mean all foie gras producers treat their ducks like crap. I make it a point to know where my foie gras comes from.

I get my fix from the French stall at Borough Market that stocks foie gras from Ferme de Phalange or D'Artagnan that carries Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Happy ducks make good foie gras and I certainly do not want a bad quality one. 

Check out the happy free-range ducks at Ferme de Phalange:


The ducks, along with some remarkably passionate people at Hudson Valley:

Unethical farming is unfortunately everywhere and it does not only happen to ducks bred for foie gras. You could just as easily find chickens living in perhaps even more brutal conditions but that's a whole different topic altogether.

These days, alternatives to the traditional method also exist.
Take for example, Eduardo Sousa, a farmer in Spain that raise geese for foie gras without the force-feeding. He lets those guys roam freely and believes that when they are convinced that they are not being domesticated, their natural instinct will take over and they would just gorge themselves silly when the the time comes (when the weather gets cold). Their diet consists of figs, nuts, olives and herbs. Sousa knows they're ready for harvest when those fatties start walking around dragging their belly on the ground. The end result, well, an award-winning foie gras (the prestigious Coup de Coeur, no less) and a reputation as the Holy Grail of foie gras.

Those who like hunting could also start looking out for pintails. Wild foie gras apparently does exist, you just have to find it somehow, somewhere between the bushes.

Pan-seared foie gras with caramelised
cherry and balsamic reduction.
I licked the plate clean.

It annoys the sh*t out of me when I read the news of all these protests, businesses being vandalized, chefs and their family terrorized; all because of foie gras.
A lot of these so-called animal welfare warriors are die-hard extremists of vegetarianism and obviously, if they are not ok with eating animals, they would not be ok with foie gras. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion but it does NOT make it ok to do all that. 

Let me reiterate that I do NOT support animal cruelty. I'm hoping to shed some light on a number of popular myths and bring to the surface a few facts and alternatives. The ducks bred in these reputable farms are in much better living conditions than some other farmed animals.

Also check out: 
Dan Barber's Foie Gras Parable

So that's my two cents. Like The Beastie Boys sing, you gotta fight for your right to party pâté.
What's your take on foie gras... Yay or Nay?


Michelle said...

wow I love this article, fi. 1st, I love Providence, they're amazing! 2nd, your pan-seared foie gras dish look so deliciouss. *triple thumbs up* :D

(my url below doesn't really exist LOL)

Fiona said...

thank you m'dear, good to know that you enjoyed the post :)

meltingbutter.com said...

I read about the Hudson Valley foie gras farmers in David Chang's momofuku book... I think if the ducks are ethically reared and live a happy life, why not enjoy the some luxurious, creamy foie gras every now and then? Goodness knows not many people can afford to indulge in it regularly! :)

Yoann Belmere said...

Fiona! I wanna hug you for this blog! I fully agree.

I visited a duck farm myself this summer in the south west of France and I can confirm all you say on Foie Gras making.

I would add/hammer on the following:

1- Wrong target : the problem is not foie gras it's the industrial foie gras and by extention a large proportion of the animal industrial farming. In traditional farms the duck are parked by group of 15 in a narrow space (2 meter x 3 meter) for 2 weeks but they can move and the force feeding did NOT look traumatising at all. They have to park them in a narrow space because...

2. The duck would loose all the extra fat he got in less than 2 weeks if he is released in the farm. As fiona explained this is in their nature to absorb large quantity of food to survive migration and burnt quickly.

3. the force-feeding in itself does not look traumatising to me. in fact the duck looked quite anxious before force feeding but looked very happy after it. the whole feeding process took 15 seconds max.

4. for the rest of the breeding period the duck were raised free and wild.

Go and see for yourself. In this information society it's crucial to be critical and thorough about information we get in our inbox for it is easy to be taken for goose :) and become a idiotic protestor (like kate winslet in her anti foie gras video).

Yoann Belmere

Yoann Belmere said...

thanks fiona!

Fiona said...

Yoann - you're a rockstar!

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