As of the beginning of July, it has become illegal to produce or sell foie gras, a delicacy made of engorged duck and goose livers, in the state of California. Nicknamed “foie-mageddon,” the ban has been in the works for quite some time. The law was enacted in 2004, but foie gras producers and sellers were granted a 7-year grace period in order to allow California’s only foie gras producer, Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, the opportunity to develop a more humane way of making it.
For years, foie gras has been the target of animal-rights activists who claim that its production involves extreme abuse to ducks and geese. At issue is the practice of “gavage,” in which farmers force-feed ducks and geese with tubes, enlarging the liver to ten times its normal size. Opponents of foie gras production say that the livers become so engorged that the birds have trouble walking and breathing.
Much of the culinary industry, on the other hand, has been less than happy about the ban. According to The New York Times, fans of the delicacy were searching for legal loopholes a month before the ban took effect, mounting a petition to repeal the ban before it became law and even stockpiling large reserves of foie gras. High-profile chefs including Thomas Keller, Gary Danko and Michael Mina were at the forefront of the repeal effort, promising new ethical production standards.
As the Sacramento Bee reports, restaurants and chefs have since found loopholes in the law. At The Kitchen in Sacramento, for example, foie gras is now presented as a complimentary item – not officially for sale. Randall Selland, owner and executive chef of The Kitchen, tells the Bee, “There’s more interest in foie gras now than ever. If you ask to try it we’ll let you have some. It won’t be on the menu and there’s no extra charge.”
Though the ban was meant to prevent foie gras from being served, it has only served to increase the popularity of the delicacy. And according to the Bee, “Enforcement of the new law [which carries fines of up to $1,000 for selling foie gras] has been nearly nonexistent.” Elsewhere, San Francisco’s Presidio Social Club, located on former Army barracks, invoked its federal land status to sell foie gras after July 1st. And St. Helena’s Goose & Gander currently offers a dish listed as “Senate Bill 1520,” including a “torchon of Fergus” (the restaurant’s goose mascot) with bing cherry jam and toast.
How do you feel about the ban? Animal-rights activists say that California’s ban is an important step towards treating animals ethically and responsibly. Are they right, or will the ban only continue to increase the allure of foie gras?