Profess to enjoy eating foie gras to friends and family — much less diehard veggies — and you’re practically begging for their disapproval. But guess what? They’re wrong to be critical.
If there’s one meat product that anti-industry activists and pro-industry apologists agree upon, it’s a condemnation of foie gras, a culinary delicacy from fattened duck or goose liver that is made into pâté or mousse. Its rich, buttery texture and flavor is unique, and in France, where it originated, it is written into law that “foie gras belongs to the nation’s protected cultural and gastronomical heritage.”
Animal activists, however, consider its production, done by force-feeding the birds, to be cruel, painful and disgusting.
PETA, in particular, has created an entire portfolio of images showing women bound to chairs and being force-fed from a big hose attached to a funnel filled with raw grain.
“Force-feeding equals torture and death,” reads one of the group’s more prominent slogans.
It’s expected that PETA would oppose the production of foie gras, of course, but they’re not alone.
In 2006, the city of Chicago banned the sale of foie gras on the basis of the alleged cruelty involved in its production, a vote that was overturned two years later after the city had been ridiculed by numerous prominent chefs and culinary experts.
Most consumers, even those who regularly enjoy a variety of animal foods, draw the line at foie gras, so convinced has the public become that force-feeding birds is a horror show that must be stopped.
A Far Different Understanding
But as Chicago’s late broadcasting legend Paul Harvey used to say, “Now, for the rest of the story.”
Let’s listen to someone who understands how — and why — foie gras is not at all the monstrous abomination that activists would have the rest of us believe.
Ariane Daguin is the CEO of Union, N.J.-based D’Artangnan, a purveyor of gourmet meats and other culinary specialties that’s been in business for more than 30 years. In a lengthy interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Daguin explained how foie gras is actually produced, and why the common perceptions of its production are dead wrong.
Here are a couple key excerpts that tell the story:
“To produce foie gras, you first must raise your duck in a normal way for 9 to11 weeks. After this, they are put inside in parks of four to five [and] three times per day, a feeder with pump and tube comes and force-feeds the ducks a mash of corn into the esophagus. The esophagus of birds is insensitive, and they have no gag reflex. When people anthropomorphize and say, “Oh, it must hurt to put that in their throat,” number one, it’s not a throat, and number two, they are not human beings, they are ducks. When mother birds feed the baby birds, they put their beaks down the esophagus of the baby birds to the stomach, so it’s the same principle.”
Daguin explains that initially, the ducks are typically upset, because they’re not used to people, but after a few days, they recognize that the person is bringing them their food.
And here’s the most intriguing part:
“After this initial period, the duck is starting to go into a migratory mode. Ducks and geese force feed themselves before migration, so they have enough calories for the very long flight. So as the ducks grow, their liver and organs start to enter into a migratory mode. There is nothing inhumane; we are just mimicking their migratory mode. This is a normal propensity for waterfowl to force feed themselves and store calories in certain places in their body. One of them is the liver, and the other is the skin.”
That is not only an accurate depiction of a practice that originated centuries ago, but an explanation of why the practice has continued. If it were truly a painful, horrible experience for the birds, it stands to reason that it would be extremely difficult for farmers to manage the process, and in the end not worth it to try to manhandle angry ducks or geese just to make a premium from selling their livers.
Daguin closed his interview with some words of wisdom for his customers, a statement that applies broadly across animal agriculture.
“If you treat an animal right, if they have a wholesome life with diverse food and ways to walk around in their natural habitat, they will give you good meat. If you mistreat animals, the meat is not going to be good.”
If you’re in the business of livestock production, I already know your response.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.