Chris Poldoian | The Gourmand
Stop! In the name of foie
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 04:04
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I love foie gras.
Before PETA dumps a pint of red paint on me, let me set the record straight — I’m not a bad person. Sure, I’ve sinned as much as the next Tufts student (sorry, Mom, Dad, President Monaco) but by no means do I belong in Dante’s lowest circle.
Foie gras translates from French to “fat liver.” It is a rich paste made from the fattened goose or duck liver. Cooked in a terrine or else prepared as a torchon, this buttery delight can be served cold with a little bread like a pat矦or a smooth, full-bodied mouthfeel, or foie can be seared for melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Either way, it’s delicious. Pair it with a small glass of Sauternes (French dessert wine) for the ultimate luxury.
The controversy that surrounds this delicate dish stems from the way in which the birds are fattened. Farms use mechanized tubes to forcibly overfeed them to the point that the livers swell to six to ten times their normal size. This fattening technique, referred to as gavage, has been around for over four thousand years; however, people with pacifistic palates have gotten their napkins all in a bunch.
Most recently, California banned foie gras altogether. The law, which takes effect this July, carries a hefty $1,000 fine for violation. To demonstrate their disgust with this law, Californian chefs began serving as much foie gras as possible. One restaurant called Melisse instituted a Foie For All tasting menu that incorporated the controversial ingredient into each of the eight courses. That’s right, we’re talking everything from foie gras flan to foie gras parfait.
The history of this ban can be traced back to Chicago in 2006. Rather than deal with Chicago’s rising murder rate and drug crimes, Alderman Joe Moore dedicated taxpayer money to passing a law that prohibited the sale of foie gras and fined any disobeying restaurant. Chicagoan chefs found an interesting loophole: by providing complementary foie gras to patrons, they were not technically guilty of selling the illegal ingredient. Others simply broke the law and made no changes to their menus. Indeed, over 46,000 pounds of foie gras were sold during the first year of the ban. In 2008, less than two years later, lawmakers came to their senses and overturned this micromanaging law.
Many argue that foie gras is the result of animal cruelty, which is biologically false. Physiologically, ducks and geese have an expandable esophagus that allows for overeating. Unlike humans or various farm animals, ducks and geese don’t have a gag reflex. Furthermore, gavage only occurs during the last couple of weeks of the animal’s life. Prior to this final stage, the birds are often given free range. The few farms that produce foie gras are meticulously caring to these birds throughout the process.
If you consider gavage cruel, then take a hard look at the ways in which all animal products are made. Most store-bought chicken eggs are the result of circadian manipulation and genetic engineering. And all that chicken meat you buy? Ever wonder what that label about water retention means? Answer: You don’t.
For anyone other than vegans, it would be hypocritical to oppose foie gras on the basis of animal welfare. At best, such an opinion is uneducated. At worst, it is self-righteous and arbitrary.
If you personally dislike the ethics of gavage, then don’t eat foie gras. It’s that easy. After all, it’s not as though fattened goose liver is ubiquitous here in the United States. Demonstrate your dislike by avoiding dishes that utilize it. But don’t vilify the honest farmers at Hudson Valley, the hardworking chefs in New York or me for our love of foie gras’ inimitable flavor and consistency.
Chris Poldoian is a senior majoring in Spanish and economics. He can be reached at Christopher.Poldoian@Tufts.edu.