“Animals have no soul. God made ducks to have that liver—and He made it incredibly delicious! Why would it exist if not for us to enjoy it?” (Ariane Daguin, owner of NYC restaurant D’Artagnan, from New York magazine)
“The foie gras issue is separate from whether people should eat meat. These people are animal-torturing, psychotic extremists. They should be locked up.” (Bryan Pease, Animal Protection and Rescue League, same New York article)
Foie gras translated is fatty liver. More specifically, livers from ducks and geese are intentionally enlarged (by force-feeding, called gavage, with a pipe shoved into their throats) up to ten times their normal size (and roughly comprised of 80% fat). They end up as “sautéed foie gras with sunchokes, confiture of kumquats, garden tarragon, and a Banyuls-vinegar gastrique” and priced for the most discriminating palates. In defense, Ariane Daguin said (Time article on Philadelphia’s face-off), “It seems terrible if you don’t know that a duck’s esophagus is lined with a very thick cuticle, if you don’t realize that baby ducks are fed by their mother pushing her beak down the baby’s throat.” But veterinarian Holly Cheever offers this scientific rebuke (additional expert analysis).
The largest producer in the nation is Hudson Valley Foie Gras (visual evidence here). Led by the unapologetic Michael Ginor (author of Foie Gras: A Passion), Hudson Valley churns out some 5,000 ducks per week. He staunchly defends his company’s record (claiming that ASPCA and AVA inspections have turned up no extraordinary violations; he also notes that their 3.5% mortality rate is far lower than a regular poultry farm) and animal care (bonuses are awarded to feeders for bringing live, bloated ducks to slaughter). But in a more introspective moment, Ginor admits: “I wrestle with this. I believe in karma. If I see an ant on the floor, I avoid it. I don’t needlessly take a life. I am not making the argument that ‘we’re humans and they’re ducks, so who the f— cares?’”
Foie gras provides an easy and obvious target. Even among omnivores, the indelible images of the gavage (sometimes causing a ruptured liver) and the breathing-impaired, diseased animal hobbling around over his final few weeks prove difficult to ignore. Also, the romantic dishes with French names (caviar, escargot, foie gras) are associated with elitist dining. In a world where millions die from hunger each year, gross outlays on status foods are widely considered, at best, self-indulgent. Marshall Sella, author of the New York article, calls foie gras the “most Catholic of delicacies: paradise attained through suffering.”
Is foie gras appreciably worse than bacon or steak? Daguin: “If these people wanted to start in the right place, they would outlaw the slaughter of cows in a kosher way, which they could never do here. The one time I saw a cow slaughtered that way, seeing it bleed for two hours, this was the one time I had to go outside and vomit.” But comparing levels of torture and misery should be quite beside the point. When contemplating Sella’s supposed “paradise,” I can’t help but be reminded of this quote from the English writer William Ralph Inge: “We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” This is what the devil looks like to ducks and geese (undercover video).