Foie-mageddon: California in one last foie gras binge before statewide ban

One such chef, Chris Cosentino, has reportedly received death threats. In
response he accused animal rights activists of having an “agenda for a
vegan country.”

With three weeks left to what has been dubbed “foie-mageddon”
eateries are churning out dishes and customers are snapping them up.

At Melisse in Santa Monica, which has two Michelin stars, chef Josiah Citrin
is offering a $185 (£120) “Foie for All” five-course tasting
menu including truffled foie gras agnolotti, dover sole with poached foie
gras, and foie gras with pudding. Around 30 per cent of customers are
ordering the foie gras.

“It is definitely one of the most popular things we serve here,”
according to the chef. “The great thing about America is we have
freedom of choice. I’m personally sad because foie gras is a foundation of
haute gastronomy.”

Protesters who picketed the restaurant last month disagreed. Madeline
Bernstein, president of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals, said: “People are allowed to eat food, not allowed to torture
it first.”

The recent statewide protests have driven some enthusiasts underground, with
clandestine wakes being held for their favourite food.

One dining website, Dishcrawl, organised a series of events at secret
locations, and they sold out. Spokesman Tracy Lee said: “I believe in
the freedom to eat what you like and it’s been nice for people to enjoy it
without protesters. A lot of people coming to these events have been buying
loads and freezing it. They’re stocking up. The price has gone up, it’s
practically doubled.”

California’s only foie gras producer is Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, which is
going out of business, despite business booming with clients placing bumper
orders at $60 a pound in the weeks before the ban starts.

Owner Guillermo Gonzalez told The Daily Telegraph: “Our farm is being
forced to shut down at the end of June, and the most unfortunate fact is
that science has not been given a chance to play a role in this debate.

“Ultimately, chefs’ and consumers’ freedom of choice is being taken away.
Who knows what food product is next?”

The idea of force feeding birds to enlarge their livers stretches back to at
least Roman times when the author Pliny the Elder recorded it in the 1st
Century AD.

Today, the vast majority of foie gras is produced in France using a
controversial process known as “gavage.” Ducks are force fed by
having a pipe placed down their throats several times a day for three weeks,
and their livers can expand tenfold.

Annual consumption of foie gras in the US has been estimated at around 420
tons. Thousands of ducks a week are grown to make it and foie gras is also
imported from France.

Gavage has been banned in around a dozen countries including Britain, although
foie gras produced elsewhere can still be imported into the UK.

Opponents of the California ban, under which chefs would be fined up to $1,000
for each violation, argue that the birds do not have a gag reflex and are
used to gorging on fish.

But the Animal Protection and Rescue League, which pushed for the prohibition,
says that “after weeks of enduring this force feeding torture many
ducks have difficulty standing, walking and breathing.”

The ban was originally drawn up by John Burton who was State Senate president
in 2004 and is now the chairman of the California Democratic Party.

“How would you like to have a tube crammed down your throat and corn
forced down it? It’s very inhumane,” said Mr Burton.

“Any restaurant that serves foie gras is a high class restaurant so I
don’t think they’ll be going broke because of this.”

Around 100 chefs have formed the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming
Standards (CHEFS) in an attempt to repeal the ban. They are advocating
improvements such as using cage-free birds, gentler hand feeding, and animal
welfare inspections.

But that has been dismissed by the Humane Society of the United States.
Jennifer Fearing, California director, described such measures as “like
putting lipstick on a pig, or in this case lipstick on a pipe that’s being
shoved down a duck’s throat.”

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