In response to an imminent ban on the serving of foie gras in California, according to an article by The San Diego Union-Tribune, a group of about 100 famous chefs have been joined by some of San Diego’s own to fight lawmaker’s attempts to illegalize the delicacy. But what is foie gras exactly and how is it produced that causes such a debate? The product is actually made from the livers of ducks and geese. The birds must be forced-fed at a rapid pace in order to sufficiently fatten their organs, motivating animal rights activists, among many others to cry at the inhumanity of its practice. In 2004 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began the legislation, setting a decree for the foie gras ban to begin July 1, 2012.
However, some chefs feel that whether foie gras is on their menus or not, lawmakers should not be able to dictate what they can and cannot serve. Executive Chef of San Diego's Cowboy Star, Victor Jimenez (below), in an interview with the Union-Tribune, said, “I’m not saying I serve it. I’m not saying I don’t serve it...We want to make sure they stop the law and come together with the industry to move forward and find a solution — not create a black market.”
Chefs fighting the law are proposing ways to make the practice more humane. For example, suggestions include keeping waterfowl cage-free, opening farms to more careful health code inspections, and modifying feeding techniques. However, despite these ideas, waterfowl would still be subject to overfeeding. In fact, the way the animals are fed correlates to a 200 pound human being forced to consume around 40 pounds of pasta, every day, for the duration of three weeks.
Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck has famously supported the ban on foie gras since its inception, while television chef, author, and world traveler Anthony Bourdain believes there are alternatives to the way the dish is procured. Bourdain, who visited the Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm on an episode of his show "No Reservations," has said "Every duck for foie gras that I know at Hudson Valley, for instance — and I've been there, I've walked freely everywhere, all around. When the ducks come at you when a human enters the barn, if all the ducks in the place move towards you, that is an indication that their experience with humans, it's not awful...A distressed, unhappy animal is bad food...inarguably that kind of suffering and stress leads directly to the quality of food that we don't want." (Photo courtesy of Cowboy Star)
Other arguments for the continuation of foie gras production include the reasoning that geese and ducks are anatomically built to consume large quantities of food, often gorging themselves before migrating. A New York veterinarian on the Bourdain episode "Foie Gras Not Cruel," also stated that feeding tubes do not block their ability to breathe because bird's esophageal openings differ from mammals'. In an interview with Eater.com, California Chef Michael Chiarello said, "I've been to every foie gras farm that I know in Northern California. I've also walked into a chicken farm where a million chicks are dead because some idiot mixed the chemical wrong in their feed. A million chicks dead in one fell swoop. The point is not foie gras, the point is boneless skinless...chicken breast."
Other veterinarians and animal specialists that have been called upon to evaluate the process have been on the fence as well. Many have reported that the waterfowl seemed well-cared for, and that while the process of inserting the feeding tubes into the birds' throats was not a gentle process, the animals were not being treated inhumanely either. Yet, often times reports have proved inconsistent and the controversy continues. Currently, bans that prevent force-feeding for the production of foie gras are active in most of Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, as well as Holland, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Stateside, The Chicago City Council repealed its foie gras ban last week after a variety of protests and general "silliness" made a mockery of the city, which reached national proportions. The group of 100 top chefs from California have signed a petition protesting the California ban on production of foie gras, titling themselves the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards. The group wishes to enact new ordinances at foie gras farms, including hand feeding the ducks and minimizing confinement and stress while maximizing cleanliness and sanitation.
Other chefs who are fighting for the freedom to serve what they wish include Michael Sandoval of Bouchon, Hiro Sone of Terra, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, and Victor Jimenez of Cowboy Star. However, members of the California coalition hoping for repeal may be in for some disappointment. According to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), “I’m not going to allow an issue like that to preoccupy the Legislature...We’ve got a lot of other things to do; we have higher priorities.”
Restaurant critic Phil Vettal from the Chicago Tribune had a unique and witty sentiment about the controversy saying, "And if there's a lesson here, it's that you don't get rid of something you don't like by banning it. You tax it."
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