Foie Gras: Cruel To Eat, Too Delicious Not To

duck.jpg
Force-feeding a duck for foie gras.
I have a friend who likes to say that the cuteness of an animal is directly proportional to how delicious it is. I see his point: rabbits are adorable and also excellent braised in white wine. Lambs are beautiful, whether they're frisking through a meadow or sizzling on a grill with garlic and rosemary.

Still, there are some foods that make me squeamish. For example, foie gras, which I just tried for the first time.

Foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck that has been fattened up through a force-feeding process called gavage. In the wild, ducks and geese can double their weight to prepare for seasonal migrations, and much of the excess weight is stored in the liver in the form of fat. Gavage takes this natural process to the next level: long feeding tubes are inserted into the animal's esophagus, and then a pneumatic pump quickly forces down a mash made of corn boiled with fat. After a few weeks of this, the animal's liver can reach 6 to 10 times its normal size. This production method has made foie gras ripe for controversy and is one of the reasons I'd stayed away from it.

But last Saturday night, I had dinner at Nosh, Avner Samuel's French bistro on Oak Lawn Avenue. When our server listed the evening's specials, one of which was a duo of foie, I thought: Why not?

Chef Samuel told me that the duck foie gras at Nosh is sourced from New York's Hudson Valley. The preparations were straightforward: On one side of the plate, a small piece of seared foie was propped up against a tangle of duck confit. On the other was another small piece of cold foie that had been marinated in cognac and sauternes for 24 hours before being molded into a roulade, poached for just a few minutes, and then cold cured for a couple of days. In between were a stack of thin slices of toasted baguette and a house-made Bosc pear chutney.

It was absolutely delicious. As soon as the foie hit my mouth, it melted and dissolved away. The flavor was incredibly mild and buttery -- nothing at all like liver. I kept taking small bites, wanting to stretch the experience out, trying to come up with the right description: "It's like a cloud of fat. No, like a foam of butter. No, like a warm duck ice cream."

The next day, my shoulder angel was telling me that force-feeding ducks is inhumane. My shoulder devil (who looks a lot like Anthony Bourdain) was arguing that these birds are no worse off than any chicken sold by Tyson or KFC, and anyway, since when are you a vegan?

In the end, shoulder devil won. I'm glad I tried foie gras. I'll order it again someday. Still, I'm relieved it's not a food for every day. What's your opinion? What foods do you find delicious, even though they may be guilt-inducing?

Location Info

Nosh Euro Bistro

4216 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, TX

Category: Restaurant

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13 comments
HahnS1971
HahnS1971

As a mostly successful but late-in-life vegetarian, I try not to be judgmental of what others eat. It is a very personal decision that one has to make of their own free will.

That said, I refused to eat foie gras even when I still ate meat. It just smacks too much of torture for me. Can't go there, and don't really want to support restaurants that do.

Jake
Jake

Foie gras is the true definition of abhorrent cruelty. I must admit that I have tried it but I can't justify treating a living creature like that so I avoid any resturant that lists it on the menu.

Jodi Minion
Jodi Minion

As a wildlife biologist, I firmly believe that force-feeding is painful to ducks and geese.

It cannot be deduced that simply because ducks’ esophagi are flexible that forcing a feeding tube down their throats is not uncomfortable or harmful. Free-roaming ducks forage mainly on grasses, wild grains, insects, and tiny fish, amphibians, and snakes. Ducks don’t eat a cup of corn mush or more all at once. They forage and digest food slowly.

Even if a feeding tube was the width of blade of grass, routinely shoving a plastic or metal object into a duck’s esophagus causes scratches, lacerations, and bruising (sometimes severe); bacteria fester in these areas and can cause painful, debilitating infections.

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.

A recent investigation of foie gras farms in France (which export foie gras all over the world), revealed that, during the force-feeding period, ducks are confined to cramped, filthy cages barely larger than the ducks’ bodies. (See video footage here: http://www.peta.org.uk/feature... I can’t imagine that, after watching this video, anyone could dispute that these birds are suffering.

FeedMe@LA
FeedMe@LA

I'm conflicted. When done well (my favorite is seared, and I can even skip the little toasts served with), it is one of the most moan-inducing foods. However, I find thinking about the process creates in me a similar vow as the one I make the morning after one too many... "Never again." But I keep going back. Maybe the makes me a bad person. On your next trip to NYC, go to Le Bernadin and ask for it (it is often not on the menu)... that's the Heaven-on-Earth spot where I met the best foie ever, and have been trying to meet it's match ever since.

Bobbie
Bobbie

It's hard to imagine how people can delude themselves into thinking that force-feeding ducks huge amounts of food until their livers balloon to about the size of a football could be anything less than ghastly. Even if you can somehow convince yourself that intentionally inflicting a painful disease on birds (foie gras is actually an illness called hepatic lipidosis) isn't really all that bad, what about the fact that female hatchlings are drowned or smothered to death and that birds raised for foie gras have a drastically higher death rate than birds raised for meat? I don't care how "delicious" the end result may be, the making of it is still inexcusable.

sanderw
sanderw

It's not as cruel as it sounds like it would be. Geese have a different anatomy than humans and no gag reflex, so the forced feeding isn't necessarily cruel.

twinwillow
twinwillow

If it's on the menu, I'll order it. I try not to think about, how or why it's so good.

THAREASON
THAREASON

foie gras was tops on my list of things to try

Anthony Marks
Anthony Marks

I haven't had the privilege of eating at Le Bernadin, but if I ever do, you can count on it.

Doug
Doug

Maybe you were referring to the ducks that get liver transplants??

Anthony Marks
Anthony Marks

I'm pretty sure that birds raised for foie gras and birds raised for meat have the same death rate: 100%.

Also, it isn't as if birds raised for foie gras have their livers removed and then the rest is discarded: magret, the breast meat of a fattened duck, is apparently amazing.

just sayin'
just sayin'

And now you know why I used to call an ex girlfriend "Goose". I don't really miss her, but my dick threw her dogtags off of an aircraft carrier.

Esme
Esme

How does that justify what is done to these birds? I'm a vegan, and while I am sickened by the brutality of factory farms, the torment of animals for some "delicacy" is worse. For heaven's sake if you really have that much money, put it to some good use. 

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