Getting Ready for Foie Gras

My wife and I are having our annual wine party in just less than 2 weeks, on October 27th. I always pick a theme for the wines, and each couple brings one red wine and one white wine that fits the theme. So far, we’ve done “Anything Goes” for the first 2 years, then “US Wines Not From California”, and “Southern Hemisphere Wines Not From Australia”. This year, I decided to go mainstream, and we’re doing “French Wines”.

We do the party a bit differently than I’m told I should do wine parties. Most of our friends aren’t that into wines, so we don’t do any formal scoring. I do hand out paper for note taking, and we discuss our impression of the wines’ color, bouquet, and taste. But there are too many people to do a standard tasting, which is fine with us. I think we’re expecting 20 this year, and most advice is to limit a wine tasting party to 8. This is about fun, not being perfect. What happens is that we all get to taste a lot of different wines, and different people like different ones. We get enough to want to go try one or two wines again later. One year, someone brought this awful wine that tasted like cherry cough syrup… At least to me, and a couple of others it did. Some of our friends, and I still call them friends even after this incident, actually LIKED it! Sometimes we have to give our friends leeway to have bad taste, even if it’s really bad!

Foie Gras

One of the things I like about this party is that all the food is made by me! People try to bring things, and I refuse any help. Any other party, that’s fine, but this one time each year, I get to decide on all the food. I try to do 2-3 meats, a couple of side dishes/appetizers and have several cheeses and bread. This year, I’ve decided to make pan seared foie gras.

I’ve thought about this a lot, as there’s a lot of controversy about this. The anti-foie gras group has a bunch of photos showing mangled birds from foie gras farms (though I never seem to find out from what farm the birds came). The thought of me personally being force fed grain/corn isn’t appealing at all. So I started doing some research.

For those of you that don’t know what foie gras is, it’s duck or goose liver. The ducks/geese are fed corn (and sometimes soy mixed in) through a tube feeder. This overfeeding takes advantage of a tendency for migratory birds to overfeed before migrating, which enlarges the liver to store fat. Fat=energy when flying, which probably takes a lot of energy!

Foie Gras Burgers

I’ve talked to some chefs about foie gras, but the problem there is that they aren’t involved in getting the foie gras to a restaurant. They just fix the dish. So I went to one of the US producers, D’Artagnan. There are very few foie gras producers in the US: Hudson Valley, D’Artagnan and Artisan Foie Gras. I know PeTA and other groups have anecdotal evidence of abuse, but I personally have long distrusted their motives. The AVMA (American Veterinary Association), however, says that there’s no evidence of abuse at D’Artagnan farms.

I’ve known several farmers in my life that raised livestock of one form or another. None of them did so with any cruelty. Were the animals treated the way I would want to be? No, but they are also different from me. Ducks and geese being force fed through a tube is not the same as you or me being force fed through a tube. Physiological differences exist, and the birds are made in such a way to accept the overfeeding. Do I think it’s fun for the bird? No, I don’t. I also don’t think it’s much fun for a steer to be castrated and later slaughtered. I don’t think it’s fun for a fish to be hooked and reeled in, then beheaded and gutted.

If I wanted to anthropomorphize animals, I’d probably be a vegan. Taken to an extreme, even plants that are harvested may feel pain. We don’t live in a pain free world, though, and I personally feel that I have canine teeth for a reason. God gave man dominion over the animals, and, basically, they’re ours to do with what we want.

The key to me is whether it’s done cruelly or humanely. I’ve taken a bit of time to get to know some of each side of this, and one side gives me shock value without a lot behind it. The other side talks to me sanely and shows proof of how they treat their birds. Not only that, but I’ve seen how farmers I know approach life in general.

Factory farming is a different thing altogether. I’m not talking about factory farmed birds; these are small farms that are more artisan farms than factory farms. I’ve had some great correspondence with people at the farms, and they’re either so evil that they can fool me into thinking otherwise, or they’re conscientious people that do something for a living they can be proud of doing. I know if I were guilty of what the antis accuse these farmers of doing, I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in a mirror, and I think the people I’ve talked with are the same.

I don’t know if I get enough readership to get many comments on this, but it won’t surprise me if I get blasted. If I do, I hope it’s backed with facts, not just emotion. Ducks aren’t people. That doesn’t mean that they should be treated badly. However, just because I wouldn’t want to be treated the way these ducks are treated doesn’t mean there is cruelty involved.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras

I’ve seen other bloggers lambasted on foie gras posts, but I haven’t seen many bloggers actually take a side. I guess I’m officially saying I support the farmers in this. This “battle” reminds me a lot of PeTA and the “Humane” Society of the US (not to be confused with the American Humane Society or local groups) spreading a lot of false information about purebred dogs. Puppy farms are bad, true, and should be done away with. Purebred breeders overall are not bad and shouldn’t be done away with. The antis come up with a lot of misinformation or information about a very small percentage of what goes on, and they spread it around as though it’s true everywhere. How many protesters are meat eaters? Do not radical vegans hope to ban all eating of meat? My opinion is that foie gras is just low hanging fruit; what’s next?

I don’t know what French foie gras farms are like. I’m finding out that US farms, and D’Artagnan in particular, are run the way I would hope they were run, and by people that are proud of what they do.

I’m putting in my order for foie gras today.

(photos by Brett Emerson and Renee Suen used under Creative Commons license. Hudson Valley Foie Gras is used with permission from David Snyder)

About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.

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  1. It’s funny that you posted about getting blasted because of this post… but I’m a first time commenter because I just found your blog. And I agree with you. For a long time, I was a vegetarian because I was opposed not only to the inhumane treatment of animals, but also to the environmental issues related to meat production, especially in the States. However, I became anemic, so I had to start eating meat again. I was very conscious of eating free-range, and now that I’m in France, where almost everything can be found free-range, my only issue was this foie gras debate. And I love foie gras. Right now I’m eating it and feeling kind of guilty, but I’m interested in your argument… Maybe I don’t need to feel guilty.

  2. emiglia, welcome and thanks for the comment.
    I know that there’s a great deal more foie gras produced in France than in the US. If you get food locally, though, I would think it would be fairly easy to visit the farm from which the foie gras comes to see for yourself.

  3. Yea for you. I support you writing about foie 24/7 (tho it would get sorta boring, unless you sent out samples :-).

    I wrote a pro-foie piece (mostly was a backgrounder piece and also discussion of a certain canadian company that produces it)

    http://nikas-culinaria.com/2007/04/13/duck-foie-gras/

    I have decided to kill the comments on there because there seems to be an anti campaign on of the moment, trashing this company, etc. Like I said in the last part of my post, the post is not about the debate and that I abhor the antis who feel justified in the destruction of property, labs, and threatening lives.

    I do not eat foie cuz I is poor. Best reason of all, doncha think?

    If you start to get the anti spam, I say, moderate. There is room for some discussion around it but life is too short to have to bear the burden of taking up this fight with fanatics (ok, any sort of fanatics at all!).

    Thats my advise but you do it your way! :-)

    I am an omnivore and I am honest about it. I put myself in situations where I get in touch with the REALITY of meat being murder (death, etc .. its a Smiths reference).

    I do not check out and think chickens grow as clean skin-free lumps of sanitary flesh on plastic ..

    Honesty feels better tho it can give you guilt feelings ..

    so what ..

    Is not experiencing guilt a better way of consuming meat than ignoring the reality and not honoring the animal’s life and death?

    Guilt is ok, in moderation. Same with foie.

    Let the guilt become an active appreciation and understanding of the sacrifice that animals make in our world.

    I am pretty sure I am preaching to your choir, this may be more for the fanatics who will troll by in search of a place to drop some vitriol.

  4. Nika, you wrote more than my whole post there! But you make an interesting point about the ‘guilt’. I’ve never thought of it as part of the process, but I can see your perspective on that. I don’t like to be too insulated from the consequences of my actions, including what I eat. It’s part of why I like living outside of the city.

    I do moderate, but I only deny spam and obvious trolling… Disagreements are allowed, though I don’t think I’m all that controversial in most of my views. :)

    Very nice post, by the way… as expected. And, yes, I’m definitely in the choir of which you speak. My approach is based more on wanting to decide on my use of foie gras personally, more at a micro level, than whether the industry should exist on a macro level, but there’s obviously a connection.

  5. Go Curt! Good for you!

    I want you to know that there are a lot of people who support the foie gras side of this controversy. I grew up on a series of small farms. I never saw an animal being treated cruelly in my entire life. Additionally, I have visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras and found their processes to be humane.

    There is a difference between animal rights and animal welfare. The word “rights” elevates animals to the level of humans. If that were the case, we’d either be vegans or cannibals. But animals are not humans. Farmers focus on animal welfare. They place it as a high priority. If farmers do not treat their animals well, they will not get a good final product. Farmers are humane, especially foie gras farmers, because it’s just good business. In fact, some farmers even pay workers bonuses based on the quality of meat the animals in their care yeild. This encourages workers to handle the animals gently and with kindness.

    For more information about foie gras production and the animal welfare aspects of it, you and your readers can check out the links on LegalFoieGras.

    I applaud you for your courage to post in the face of animal extremists who are known for “blasting” and outright terrorizing.

    I hope you enjoy your foie gras!

  6. Liz, thanks for coming by!

    I’ve read the article on your blog about the HSUS, an organization I’ve been against ever since I got my lab 15 years ago and found out what their agenda really is. Using even a misleading organizational name, they hide their agenda of doing away with human-animal interaction behind emotional manipulation.

    And I’m sure I’ll love the foie gras… I also ordered some duck fat to use in cooking, which I hear can’t be beat!

    I also agree with your definition of welfare vs. rights… Animals aren’t people, but they deserve to be cared for humanely.

  7. Hi Curt,

    Another great post. Interesting food and interesting topic. In my experience in the meat industry, the majority of ‘anti’ types dont know the first thing about any of the facts behind the method of production and/or the rearing methods being used and rarely ever pose arguments that are lucid and balanced.

    Your food looks great but knowing your love of meat, I’m surprised you didn’t make Tournedos Rossini. I made it recently and thought it the perfect way to use a beautiful piece of meat, some foie gras and some exquisite truffles.

    Check out: http://www.foodologist.com/?p=47

  8. Doc G, thanks for the link. That looks really decadent. The photos above aren’t mine; I’m still getting ready to try it this coming weekend. I’m actually going to do foie gras on grilled brioche with truffles, along with steak au poivre and crepes.

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