Friday, September 21, 2018

Coup de Grace for Foie Gras Geese

by V (writer), Venice!, December 13, 2006


Last night I sat forward on my ever so soft leather dining chair, in the wine cellar of a dimly lit, expensive restaurant in Beverly Hills, whose decor evoked the spirit of a Free Mason’s get together at a Swedish sweat lodge, and I took in the culinary arrangement that a model/waiter had placed before me. It was at that moment that I was overcome with a plague of guilt.

It wasn’t the fact that I was eating a $47 piece of one of the best Kobe beef fillet mignons I’ve ever had (cooked to perfection ‘blue’ as I ordered), when there are 20 billion people who live below the poverty line. Nor did I even attempt to vaguely reconcile the $157 bottle of Californian red that the Sommelier suggested, with any thoughts of the 1.7 billion people who have no access to clean drinking water. No, there was no starving population/ fine dining nexus tugging at my foodie strings. What it was, was the two, fine-cut, lightly grilled slivers of Foie Gras (bringing the steak dish total up to $65) that were topping my Kobe fillet. It was the fact that I knew that I would be far too weak to not eat and thoroughly enjoy them.

‘Coup de grace’ is a French expression for a blow of mercy, intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature. It couldn’t come too soon for a goose or duck being farmed for Foie Gras. Foie Gras or ‘Fatty Liver,’ is the French delicacy of overfed goose and duck liver. It is not to be mistaken with regular and much cheaper pate. Globally, animal welfare organizations deem this force feeding practice or ‘gavage’ and its side effects - resulting from a grossly engorged liver - as animal cruelty. The production of Foie Gras is illegal in some countries and states of the USA.

Despite France being the world’s largest producer and consumer of Foie Gras, producing 18,450 tons of the 23,500 tons produced worldwide in 2005, two companies in America do produce Foie Gras. Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York and Sonoma Foie Gras in California contribute to the domestic (and some international) consumption of this light and buttery, luxury product.

In order to produce the varying quality ranges of Foie Gras from the absurdly expensive to just expensive, the ducks and geese raised must be force fed. ‘Foie Gras Entier’ is made of one or two whole liver lobes and comes cooked, semi-cooked or raw. ‘Foie Gras’ is made of pieces of livers reassembled together. ‘Bloc de Foie Gras’ is a fully cooked, molded block that is 98% or more Foie Gras (if labeled ‘Avec Morceaux’ it must contain at least 50% Foie Gras pieces of goose and 30% pieces of duck). There is also Pate de Foie Gras and Mousse de Foie Gras (which must contain 50% or more Foie Gras), Parfait de Foie Gras (must contain 75% or more Foie Gras) and other preparations which have no legal specifications.

The quality of care and measure of life span during which the ducks and geese are allowed to free-roam before being housed in confined, force feeding spaces, is at the discretion of the farm, but they all must force-feed. Generally, the ducks and geese are left to free roam as chicks some months and feed by natural means in order to strengthen their esophagi. A strong esophagus is needed for the two to three week force feeding period that follows. During the gavage period, the geese and ducks have a tube inserted into their esophagus two times daily and are fed a large, pre-measured quantity of nutrient deficient feed (in order to induce liver disease). This process continues until the liver has swollen up to ten times its size, nearing organ rupture proportions (and sometimes they do rupture). This engorged liver is Foie Gras.

There are myriad unpleasant procedures and unjust circumstances that surround the production of many goods and food stuffs that are created for our consumption. It is our duty to be vigilant about educating ourselves on the background of the things we buy, so that we can make informed decisions. This way, we can make the right, individual choices for ourselves. Last night, I made the wrong one for me.

About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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5 comments on Coup de Grace for Foie Gras Geese

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By Noa on December 13, 2006 at 11:20 am
Ha :) Good thing I've never tried it! So who paid for the dinner? Lol
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By Tumerica on December 13, 2006 at 01:22 pm
Exactly, foodie sister. This play of paradox lurks behind much of what we eat. If we really think about it, who can feel good about all their food choices? Unless we live on a farm, grow everything we eat, and if we eat meat at all, also raise and slaughter what we eat. That also means no consumption of anything that has been flown halfway around the world to get to us--all that airplane fuel from the delightful Australian lamb that made its way to may table the other day. Guilt follows me everywhere, except when I eat vegetarian (and remember, it's gotta be local veggies too)--but as a foodie, I am a confessed omnivore. What do I do? Well, I live an imperfect life. I try to buy kosher or humanely raised meats (Niman Ranch is a good producer) or wild (like the silver coho salmon I delighted in last night), when possible. I try to eat lots of veggies and rice and beans. I do my best. I fail a lot. And I draw the line at some things--no veal for me now (although I did eat it when I was in Italy), and I would not buy foie gras, although I have to say, like you, I would shiver with the taboo thrill of being served it--and feel repentant for weeks. It's a damn shame. Best we can do is try to make good decisions--and to write about these injustices (damn--liver disease--that's wicked cruel!) to raise awareness. And keep trying. Thank you for this terrific article.
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By V on December 13, 2006 at 06:29 pm
Precisely, unless we literally grow, raise, collect and slaughter everything we ingest, we can never be completely guilt free, not knowing first hand the course that has been taken for the produce to arrive at our table. I am a huge animal lover but simultaneously a foodie who will always remain omnivorous I'm quite sure. It sounds crazy, but I have long dreamed of literally subsisting from my own produce on my own property one day. This would include the slaughter of my own meat. As harrowing as this will undoubtedly be, I think that it is important to know and understand the cost of life and thus perhaps have a heightened appreciation and respect for the produce that we eat. Like you, I do really try but sometimes, my being human just trips me up.
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By Steven Lane on December 13, 2006 at 11:41 pm
Here lies my conundrum. Why do I find the thought of eating over stuffed goose liver so absolutely disgusting (I have tried it...I will eat anything once and have eaten some pretty strange stuff), when a similar thought of "blue" Kobe beef fillet delivers shivers of such gastronomic pleasure? Yeah, who did pay for dinner? lol
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By Annonymous on June 21, 2007 at 01:56 am
I was searching online for a good site from which to buy raw foie gras and I finally clicked this link after skipping any number of other anti-foie gras articles. Stop with all the anthropomorphosizing at the very least. You pay $47 for "kobe" beef (sorry but the pirice is just a little too low, especially for anything in Bev. Hills) and admit you feel no guilt about the people who are in desperate need of any food who could live off that $47 for weeks. You're more concerned about some bird being force fed for a couple weeks? This is where you're guilt comes in? Oh, that poor goose. It had a tube shoved down its throat. It's a non-invasive procedure that actually causes only a little discomfort simply because the bird is scared and struggles. It actually forgets about it ten seconds later and goes about its goose business. It will learn to recognise when that bit of unpleasantness is about to occur and it will get more scared then but it will still forget about it ten seconds later. Of all the animal rights causes celebre this is the most absurd. We lament veal because letting the calves run about would make their muscles more like beef. That cause has died out. Now we're all up in arms about a far less horrific treatment of water fowl? It's just more graphic, that's it. Instead of imagining why you don't want a goose to be force fed try imagining explaining to some kid who has had nothing but rice.... ever.... why you feel guilty about contributing to the foie gras industry rather than why you don't feel guilty about dishing out almost $50 for [pseudo]kobe rather than eating some supermarket beef and donating the $45 extra to make sure an entire extended family can have any sort of non-rat meat for an entire month.
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