Chewing the Fat Chewing the Fat
Issue 013

Chewing the Fat

by Darren Booth

December 12, 2008
In 2006, Chicago became the first city in the United States to ban foie gras. Last May, the ban was overturned. Still, foie-the fatty liver of geese and ducks traditionally enhanced by gavage, force-feeding the bird copious amounts of corn through a metal tube-is the center of a debate between animal-rights activists outraged at the practice's cruelty and the many chefs and gourmands who are miffed that their liver might be taken away. But now farmers are finding ways to fatten a liver in more bird-friendly ways.GOOD accompanied the celebrated chef Dan Barber (who doesn't serve foie in either of his New York restaurants) to Spain to taste a new version of the dish. It's made by letting geese forage naturally and has been the talk of the foie gras world. But could the taste deliver? We pitted it against two domestic humane foies to find out. -LISA ABENDAt Pateria de Sousa in western Spain, Eduardo de Sousa raises geese for foie without gavage. His geese spend their lives uncaged and foraging freely for olives, figs, and acorns. De Sousa supplements the natural fattening process with corn in the winter, but doesn't force-feed them. Because his livers aren't as big as regular foie, many French producers don't think it's legitimate.Barber: "It's really extraordinary. [De Sousa's] foie, it could be argued, is not ‘good' because it doesn't conform to our understanding of what we think is delicious foie gras. He's not just making us rethink how foie gras can be produced, he's making us rethink how foie gras should taste."$120 for a jar of cooked goose liver; ibergour.comHudson Valley Foie Gras is the largest producer of duck foie gras in the United States, but it still works on a much smaller scale than many producers in France, and although it practices traditional gavage, the ducks aren't caged and are fed by hand.Barber: "Duck foie isn't as silky as goose. But when I roasted or sautéed, it I noticed I didn't lose nearly so much fat.  Because of that, it puffs up like a soufflé, and becomes light as a cloud."$71.50 for a whole fresh duck liver; hudsonvalleyfoiegras.comBrock Farms uses a method developed in Hungary that employs a rubber tube for the gavage instead of a metal one, and forgoes the usual air blaster. "In the first year, we didn't kill a single goose. My birds don't run away from the feeder," says owner Tom Brock. From his farm in Southern California, he now produces the only goose foie made in the United States, supplying chefs like Thomas Keller of French Laundry, in the Napa Valley.Barber:By special order only; info[at]freshgoosefoiegras[dot]com

Where Things Stand

United StatesIn addition to the overturned Chicago ban, unsuccessful legislation has been introduced in New York, Philadelphia, Connecticut, and New Jersey. California recently passed a law that, in 2012, will ban all production and sale of foie gras produced through force-feeding.EuropeFrance (the world's largest producer-some 18,000 tons in 2005-and consumer of foie gras) has declared the dish to be part of its "cultural and gastronomic patrimony." In 1998, the European Union came out against a ban; however, force-feeding is explicitly illegal in Germany, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, andseveral other countries.Israel Although the country was once the world's leading exporter of goose foie gras, it banned force-feeding in 2003.
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Chewing the Fat