In the eyes of the animal cruelty people, what’s good for the goose, and the Mucovy duck, is to not have to undergo the ordeal of gavage.
Gavage, you may well ask?
The force-feeding by tube technique that was used for (or was it against?) hunger-striking British suffragettes a hundred years ago is also what’s used to plump up the livers of those geese destined to become foie gras donors, rather than duvets.
The French, who took up foie during the Renaissance and are still the world’s leading producers and consumers, pioneered the automated feeding systems—tube down the throat, corn gushes in—that are the industry standard and the cause of the greatest controversy. The process, which they call gavage, takes two to three weeks and expands a bird’s liver to around ten times its natural size. (Source: The New Yorker.)
Animal rights activists have, understandably, been opposed to this practice. And they’ve succeeded in getting it banned in California. As of July 1, the state is gavage free. Let freedom ring - at least for geese.
For foie gras producers, something’s ringing, and it’s the death knell for their business. The producers profiled in The New Yorker article, who run Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, say that they’ve spent $1.6M on “lawyers, crisis P.R., and lobbying” to stop the ban from happening. Which is decidedly not chicken feed – or even chopped liver.
And for both gourmets et gourmands, well, they’ll no doubt be moseying around this weekend looking for their last foie gras fix.
There’s some debate over whether it’s possible to make foie gras without gavage:
Several years ago, a Spanish farmer named Eduardo Sousa became famous for producing “ethical foie gras” by allowing his flock to eat freely in a lush orchard. Geese, like other migratory waterfowl, instinctively gorge in the fall, storing fat in the liver, in preparation for their flight to wintering grounds. (In 2008, Dan Barber gave a TED talk on Sousa, and then tried, unsuccessfully, to replicate his results on the East Coast.)
Gavagistes maintain that Sousa’s approach is a commercial non-starter: “bogus”, “a hobby.”
Whether it is or not, how interesting that “ethical foie gras” was a topic at TED, the “ideas worth spreading” conference where I would suspect that the typical attendee is someone who both has the time and interest to worry about “ethical foie gras” and regularly dines at the kinds of restaurants that have foie gras (ethical or not) on the menu. No foie gras at Olive Garden. No foie gras at Red Lobster. Fatty liver is what you might end up with if you took your three-squares a day at Denny’s, but there’s no fatty goose liver on the laminated bill of fare. (The better for the waitress to wipe it “clean” with her damp rag; I may not have ever worked at a Denny’s, but I am a Big Boy alumna.)
To its defenders and detractors, foie gras is an easy target—a luxury good with bad optics—and passing legislation against it is far easier than going after Big Poultry, though that may be the activists’ ultimate goal.
Big Poultry may well be their ultimate goal, but I think that one will be a harder sell.
How many people ever eat foie gras?
Vs. the number of folks who at least occasionally munch down a 6-pack of McNuggets. Or wheel their cart past the meat section of the local grocery store and toss one of those chicken McBreasts that are the size of turkeys of yore into their shopping cart.
I’m quite certain if that we really thought about where those Dolly Parton-esque chickens come from, we’d be doing without. Or buying only free-range chicken that were raised with all sorts of freedoms – including the right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be big breasted or flat-chested. Farms where Farmer Brown left around a few Mark Eden Bust Developers, in case some of the girls wanted to pick them up. (“We must, we must, we must develop the bus.”) Or asked the hen parties to peck once for yes, twice for no, to gauge whether they wanted silicon implants.
Personally, I find the idea of gavage, whether used on the Pankhurst sisters or on a Mucovy duck, somewhat abhorrent. But, then again, I could quite happily live the rest of my life sans foie gras.
On the other hand, if I really started thinking about where those skinless, frozen chicken breasts in my freezer came from.
Puk, puk, pooka…