Breakfast Table Convo: The Foie Gras Debate in California

I’m headed off for a weekend in the woods near Aspen at North America’s most elevated hot springs. I’ll be drinking lots of water and eating trail mix, but here’s some food for thought to hammer out over the breakfast table this weekend:

The Foie Gras Debate: At the beginning of July, it became illegal to produce or sell foie gras in California. The state cites the force feeding of animals via a tube to fatten and enlarge their livers as inhumane. The law was signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 2004, but he postponed it eight years so the state’s main producer, Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras, could amend its business practices.

Studies have revealed that factory-farmed animals can suffer from extreme stress during their “lives” up to and including slaughter. This physical stress results in hormone production that ends up in the meat that we eat as consumers. Even though the effect it has on our health is still being debated, one thing is for sure in my mind: Even if it’s not affecting our health, it should still affect our conscience.

Not everyone seems to be worried about the animals, though, with profits and lifestyle taking precedence over ethical treatment. Chefs on the Golden Coast don’t just plan to fight the ban, they plan to ignore it:

Many California chefs call the ban “absurd,” and pledge to use loopholes to serve the dish anyway. One loophole restaurants have figured out is a BYOF policy, meaning Bring Your Own Foie. If you supply the foie gras, they’ll cook it for free — and maybe charge you $20 for the toast it’s served on.”

PETA photo showing a duck being force fed to fatten its liver.

The city of Chicago passed a similar ban on foie gras in 2006, but it was overturned in 2008 by former Mayor Richard Daley, who called it a source of embarrassment after the locals accused the government of micromanaging their choices. Proponents of the ethical treatment of animals have continued their push to make the public aware of how the product is produced, including a call for a nationwide ban. In July, PETA posted a few humbling photos that show the process of force feeding.

I have eaten foie gras many times – so I’m no Judge Judy – but I think I’ve had my fill. I don’t blame people who enjoy the taste of liver, however I have to raise an eyebrow to anyone who can read the facts of its production and feel good about the whole thing. To hear chefs pledge to use “loopholes” is sort of disturbing. I’m all for personal freedoms, but they can’t come at another’s expense. We would never tolerate humans being treated in this way, nor dogs or cats or horses. What makes ducks and geese so much different?

I’ve got a few guesses, and they all start and end with dollars and cents.

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