With much hype about foie gras circulating, we decided to take a closer look at this controversial debate. What exactly is foie gras, you may ask? There are two main things to know about foie gras. First, foie gras (or "fatty liver) is a food product made from the sometimes-artificially fattened liver of a duck or goose. In most foie gras production, the animal is force-fed corn through a process known as "gavage," although foie gras can also be produced without the gavage process. The other important fact is that although foie gras has become a very popular menu item because of its rich, buttery and intense flavor, it is also a hotbed for criticism and debate stemming from the gavage process and concerns over animal welfare. Some people have become very engaged in the debate one way or another. Here's a bit of the arguments from both sides.
For several years now, since foie gras has become a more and more popular dish or ingredient on restaurant menus, animal rights and welfare groups like PETA has been arguing against the use of foie gras. This group argues that the force-feeding required to produce foie gras can lead to swollen livers, impaired liver functions, over-fattening of the animal making it difficult to walk, and even death. Additionally, the repeated insertion and removal of feeding tubes could lead to irritation and wounds in the esophagus, leading to the risk of mortal infections.
To try to prevent the continued sale and use of foie gras, these organizations have launched numerous campaigns trying to outlaw the use of the product with some success. Photo collections and videos are all over the Internet depicting the gavage procedure in order to display what these groups are calling a despicable act. Foie gras is currently banned in several member-nations of the EU, Turkey, Israel as well as the state of California. It was also outlawed in Chicago from 2006 to 2008. Along with larger campaigns, many smaller scale protests occur outside restaurants where foie gras is used.
One of the main arguments used in favor of foie gras simply has to do with what diners call the delicious and explosive flavor. Some will argue that even though the gavage process might be harmful to the animals, the flavor is too delicious and addictive to stop eating.
Another pro-foie gras argument made is that the description groups like PETA give to the gavage process is overblown and the process isn't as bad as some people make it out to be. The modern gavage process usually occurs about 12 to 18 days before slaughter and last about 2 to 3 seconds. Pro-foie gras proponents simply feel that this process isn't as bad as some claim and when compared to the production of some other meats, the gavage isn't nearly as bad.
Also, certain chefs have argued that there are different levels of the humaneness in foie gras production and that the production shown in the anti-foie gras videos is very poor compared to some other, more reputable producers.
The most interesting aspect of this debate is that some have argued that the best foie gras in the world is produced on a farm in Spain where the animals are not force feed but naturally fatten themselves up. Could this be the midpoint that solves this great debate- the cease of force-feeding in the continued production of foie gras?
Photo: Ulterior Epicure
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