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Foie Gras: Crying Foul Over Fowl Liver Ban

California became the first state to ban foie gras leaving diners crying foul over liver fowl.

Foie gras soon will be a forbidden delicacy in California thanks to the state bill passed to control how food passes through duck bills.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill in 2004 that will change the way ducks and geese that are farmed for their precious fatty livers.

When the bill becomes law on July 1, foie gras, a delicacy tracing back thousands of years to Roman times, will be outlawed in California. Supporters of the ban say force-feeding ducks and geese is inhumane and must be stopped.

Local restaurants might feel the effects. One of the few foie gras farms in the country, Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras, will go out of business at the end of June.

But that’s not the reason I am writing about foie gras this week.

I intend to enjoy foie gras at local restaurants such as and in Bellevue, and in Woodinville and in Kirkland, among other restaurants. 

My issue is with the irony of proponents of a foie gras ban and their ignorance and arrogance on the matter.

I am calling foul on their absolute condemnation of fowl liver.

Veterinarians fall on both sides of the argument. Some veterinarians say feeding ducks for the purpose of harvesting foie gras is not harmful, and is in fact humane. Some veterinarians go as far as to contend that ducks and geese farmed for foie gras lead less stressful lives than wild fowl. On the other hand, not all veterinarians agree. I am no clinician, so I will withhold judgment.

Traditionally liberal animal rights activists in traditionally liberal California lobbied for the ban. John Burton, a Democratic state senator at the time and current Chairman of the California Democratic Party, sponsored the bill. (In the interest of fairness, a Republican Governor, Schwarzenegger, signed the bill into law.)

The irony, perhaps hypocrisy, is that liberals used the same fear-mongering rhetoric tactics that many liberals often accuse conservatives of using, preying on voter and consumer ignorance.

California’s ban on foie gras is as draconian as enforcement on illicit drugs. The absolute nature of the ban is McCarthyist in style. Like drugs, what if outlawing foie gras creates a black market for the precious liver? The potential for animal abuse grows exponentially, after the market is no longer monitored.

Banning foie gras strikes at one of the most fundamentally precious freedoms in America: the freedom to choose how to make a living. The ban will affect small businesses. There are only a handful of foie gras farms in the country, all small businesses. Most restaurants serving foie gras are also small businesses.

It is in the best interest of foie gras producers to handle ducks and geese humanely. Cows in Kobe, Japan, are massaged, fed beer and exposed to classical music to produce superior product. Similarly, ducks and geese grown humanely and happy will produce superior livers.

Celebrity chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain likes to say, “A happy animal equals good quality foie gras.” He adds, “An unhappy, stressed out animal equals foie gras that neither me nor anybody I know is buying.”

Ducks and geese are not humans and do not have human processes. Gorging is also a natural process for ducks and geese. Ducks and geese gorge themselves in the wild to store fat in their livers for energy during migration.

Another difference is that ducks and humans don’t digest food the same way. Humans would gag at a tube in the throat. Ducks do not have a gag reflex, stomach or throat, thus, delivering food down a tube is not the same as shoving a tube down a humans throat. Further, ducks have a calcified esophagus which is also expandable and pliable. They can swallow fish whole.

Many, but not all, proponents of the foie gras ban are vegetarians or vegans. I will not listen to advice from vegetarians about animal products just like I won’t seek marriage advice from my thrice divorced neighbor. Just sayin’.

Sophie Gayot, French food critic and publisher of the eponymous restaurant, hotel and travel guide Gayot, is more poignant.

“If you don’t want foie gras don’t eat it but don’t force me to not be able to eat it. It’s a free country,” she said.

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Venice Buhain June 14, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Chris, I agree with you that consumers ought to have a choice on foie gras, especially since I don't think it's ever going to be a common and popular dish. Actually, because of the mere reputation of different farming methods -- I haven't done much research myself -- I've passed up things with foie gras and veal to avoid the judgement of my dinner companions.
Chris Nishiwaki June 19, 2012 at 10:29 AM
If you saw how some chickens are raised you wouldn't be eating that bird, either. It's much worse than how ducks raised for foie gras are treated.

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