Seared Foie Gras with Mango Peach Chutney

On July 1, 2012 producing, selling and buying foie gras is going to be illegal in California.

Foie gras, or “fat liver,” is a specially fattened and rich liver created by a process called gavage: overfeeding ducks with corn so that their liver grows to four times its normal size. This technique was developed by the ancient Egyptians who observed that fattening of the liver in wild ducks who were gorging themselves before beginning their yearly migration.

The result is richer, more buttery and delicate than a “normal” liver. Historically, this practice was done with geese, but the far more gentle ducks are used today. Geese can be very aggressive and cantankerous. Foie gras along with truffles and saffron are expensive delicacies and what we might call “luxury” foods. Foie gras traditionally is served barely seared or made into a pâté (terrine) or mousse.

Animal rights activists deplore gavage as animal brutality, due to the force feeding procedure and possible health

A chef at Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa plates Foie Gras

consequences to the duck or goose of an enlarged liver. To others, this argument seems moot, as the bird is raised for slaughter and not longevity; and ducks and geese have a long, collagen lined esophagus that can accept a feeding tube without pain or damage (think of a pelican swallowing a fish). In fact, visits to a duck farm that produces foie gras will show the ducks, which are free-range, patiently waiting for their human feeder each day.

There have been bans of production and serving of foie gras, most notably in Chicago in 2006 (the ban was repealed in 2008), and the quickly approaching ban in California. I personally love foie gras and see it as an artisanal product. Of course each of us will have to make up our own minds about its consumption and our ethical position. I just wish the same kind of energy were put toward banning the much more corrosive conventional farming practices for animals like chicken and pork that are much more important in the American diet.

What are your thoughts?