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Let Them Eat Foie Gras

Force-feeding geese is 'imitating nature,' according to Larkspur chef Aaron Wright. Several local chefs are joining a state movement to repeal a law banning goose liver.


Romantic lighting, exotic foods and a glass of fine wine — a perfect setting for a night out for just about any occasion. Magnolia Avenue has some of the most popular restaurants in the Bay Area — all within a short walk of each other.

• Chef Fabrice Marcon at Left Bank features a wonderful magret de canard (roast duck breast).

• Chef Aaron Wright at the Tavern at Lark Creek serves up a famous braised short rib.

• Nearby, Picco offers a succulent wood-grilled quail.

One festive item that might soon disappear from the menu at all California restaurants is foie gras.

When a 2004 California law banning the production and sale of foie gras goes into effect this July, restaurants around the state will be forced to take the delicacy off the menu, and local chefs are none too happy about it.

"It's a matter of freedom of choice. I have nothing against the animal rights people. I love animals. I just believe that people have the right to choose what they want to eat," said Marcon, who was born and raised in the southwest of France. "As a Frenchman, I think foie gras is one of the greatest ingredients to cook with and has been for centuries."

Foie gras, also known as fattened goose or duck liver, is a delicacy that has been served since ancient Egyptian times.

Wright and Marcon stand with more than 60 other prominent chefs from the Bay Area to Los Angeles who believe the new law goes too far, but who hope that it's a reversible mistake.

The group, known as the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) charges that the law banning foie gras is based on years-old information that is no longer correct and that a total ban on goose liver will only create a black market for the delicacy.

Twice a year, migrating birds such as ducks and geese gorge themselves on food before embarking on their long migratory path. This bi-yearly habit results in a naturally-fattened liver that is sought after by chefs across the world. This natural process has since been replicated by farmers who force feed their geese to fatten the birds' livers for use in foie gras dishes.

"Don't ban it. Let's regulate it," suggested Wright. "Let's analyze the process of creating foie gras and make sure it's done right."

While the sale of goose liver has been banned in other countries, California is currently the only state in the U.S. that has enacted laws banning foie gras and restaurateurs across the Bay Area and the rest of the state are trying to do something about it.

"I'm against the ban, but in Larkspur I do respect that people might be opposed to foie gras, so I don't usually serve it on the menu. I'll add it for holidays if there's a request," Marcon said.

It's hard to imagine Bastille Day, the national holiday to honor the French Revolution, without a taste of foie gras. The holiday falls on Saturday, July 14 this year. Another famous French chef, Jacques Pepin, will visit Left Bank on July 16.

"Foie gras is a part of French food and French celebrations as much as Champagne and oysters," Marcon said.

When the law was passed, proponents of the bill argued that the process of force feeding farm-raised ducks and geese to fatten their livers was both inhumane and unethical. 

CHEFS, however, argues that since the law was passed, there has been new research showing the process for fattening the birds' livers is actually humane. "We're just imitating something geese do in nature during their migration," Wright says. 

In addition, restaurants joining CHEFS say they only source foie gras from farms with sustainable and humane farming practices.

Jodi Minion March 28, 2012 at 09:03 PM
As a wildlife biologist, I dispute the bizarre assertion that force-feeding ducks and geese in any way mimics normal bird behavior. Free-roaming ducks eat frequent small meals to prepare for migration, they never gorge. As the days shorten, their bodies naturally begin to metabolize fat more quickly, allowing them to store extra fat in adipose tissues and muscles. These birds are not designed to metabolize fat at a high rate, as evidenced by how quickly it metabolizes in the liver, thus causing force-fed birds to quickly develop life-threatening diseases, including obesity and fatty liver disease. Force-feeding is also linked to gastrointestinal diseases and blockages, spleen and blood disorders, and respiratory illnesses. There is nothing natural about shoving a pipe down birds’ throats and pumping up to 4 pounds of mush a day into their stomachs, and California was right to ban it.
Derek Wilson March 28, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Is there a middle ground, hopefully a humane way, of getting foie gras? If we've changed how we raise chickens and beef to be more sustainable, why not geese?
Marmatt June 25, 2012 at 04:37 PM
There is no 'middle ground' when animal cruelty is concerned. The pain and suffering inflicted on these sentient animals is nothing but sanctioned animal cruelty. OR - try shoving a 2 foot long tube down your own esophagus and see how it feels. Enjoy a humane plant based diet. Healthier for you, the planet, and definitely the animals.
rick sutton October 31, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Morons without a value to reality. Hell plants have cells and are living things. Why not eat a waste product. Poop


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