Debate Rages Over California’s Foie Gras Ban

Chefs and animal-rights advocates have vastly different opinions about foie gras. Where do you stand?

Most adventurous eaters would agree: Foie gras tastes good. But the rich, velvety liver comes at a price: To produce this delicacy, ducks (and sometimes geese) are force-fed to engorge their livers. 

This, of course, raises the hackles of animal-rights advocates, who say the practice amounts to animal cruelty.

Amid outcry about the treatment of the birds used in foie gras production, California legislators enacted a foie gras ban in 2004. The law had a seven-and-a-half year delay built into the legislation, but it finally went into effect on July 1. In protest, a group of chefs has banded together to try to overturn the ban—and improve the lives of the ducks used to create foie gras.

The group, which calls itself the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS), wants to keep foie gras in the state, and has come up with a set of new rules that would change the game for foie gras ducks.

Under the CHEFS proposal, farmers would have to raise the birds in a cage-free environment, minimize stress and use gentler feeding methods that don't damage the birds' beaks or esophagi.

To get both sides of the story, we stopped by Haven Gastropub, in Pasadena, where we found executive chef Greg Daniels clad in a black T-shirt emblazoned with a "Fight for Foie" logo.

Just days before the ban went into effect, Daniels told us he was "selling as much foie as we can, and just letting people know what's going on." He prepared a seared foie gras over brioche toast, and explained that he favored a set of regulations that required ethical treatment of birds raised for foie, not an outright ban.

"People think that it sounds barbaric, but the fact of the matter is, ducks aren't mammals," Daniels said. "Their anatomy is completely different from humans'. They're used to swallowing whole fish. A [feeding] pipe like that isn't hurting them. Science is behind us on that."

At the PETA offices in Echo Park, CA, Lindsay Rajt, Associate Director for Campaigns and Outreach at PETA, disagrees. She told us that she considers foie gras production "one of the most cruel factory farming practices in existence."

The ducks are force-fed up to four pounds of grain and fat every day. "In this day and age, there's no excuse for any cruelty to animals," Rajt said.

Chaya, in Beverly Hills, was our last destination. Chef Shigefumi Tachibe prepared a foie gras beignet over peach, and lamented that the rich, buttery flavor of foie would be missed on his menu.

Three opinions. One question remains: What do you think?

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