"How would YOU like to be force fed???"

The fuzzy duckie fans have won for the moment. Foie gras is being banned in California for absolutely misguided reasons. Ducks don't have a throat like YOU. They are waterfowl and can swallow fish whole. The feeding tube to them is total duckgasm. They are going to be your dinner anyway. Paula Wolfert wrote, "I'd rather be a force fed duck than a Zacky chicken". Keller is among the chefs fighting back. So are the guys from Animal and others across the country. We want our duck liver back!



Linn June 16, 2012
Fascinating discussion from all perspectives. Seems like the food police are news this month on both coasts. So I am thinking to myself, who do I prefer patrolling my markets and eateries. The New York squad wants to ban oversized sugar beverages? The California squad wants to ban foie gras. One city wants to protect people and the one state wants to protect ducks and geese. Hummmm ... Just as a side note, it is my understanding that gavage generally consists of white bread i.e refined carbohydrates. Anyone out there know for sure if stuffing the goose with refined white carbohydrates is the substance that engorges the duck's liver?
pierino June 16, 2012
Bloomberg still hasn't banned the sale of cigarettes in New York so prohibiting the sale of soft drinks over a certain size is a litte strange. Perhaps adding an additional sales tax as a deterrent makes more sense---the tax would go to diabetes research and treatment. Of course we can't tax ducks as at least to my knowledge they aren't terribly sapient beings. They know what they like to eat, foodwise and that's about it. I don't know about the white carbs part but perhaps they could be hand fed sugared donuts. Wouldn't fit down the funnel though.
ChefOno June 16, 2012

Corn I believe. So no support for whatever theory you're working on. We really don't need the next attack to be on white flour.

ChefOno June 16, 2012

Interesting point, Pierino, about cigarettes. Perhaps Bloomberg could ease into it, banning the sale of more than one pack at a time.

Linn June 17, 2012
No theory ChefOno, just curious about the composition.
ATG117 June 15, 2012
petitbleu, I think you excellently conveyed what some of us are feeling. And I'd add that the inability of many people to afford meat that is raised under truly humane conditions does not morally justify eating meat that is raised inhumanely.
pierino June 14, 2012
Panfusine, my dear friend (and you are), I think we are mixing some stuff up here. We don't gavage humans; they willingly stuff that fast food crap down their own throats and that is in a way a form of social Darwinism. Is foie gras healthy for you? Probably not, but you are not eating it every day unless you make a lot more money than I do. It's just wierd to single out one particular organ from an animal which will be consumed anyway and say, "No you can't eat that". Does that mean I shouldn't eat tripe or kidneys? I eat sausage made from pig blood. Bring it!
Sam1148 June 14, 2012
As a complete aside. One of the background hex code colors on PeTa website is "BEEEF".

Abby A. June 15, 2012
By all means, enjoy all the normal sized, healthy free range liver you want. This issue is with the diseased, overgrown organ that does not occur in nature without the help of extreme farming.
Panfusine June 15, 2012
LOL Pierino..Yep, I was aware that this was digressing about the topic but sometimes if I don't shoot my mouth out, I'ts like supressing a sneeze! In the interest of disclosure.. I should be the LAST person on earth to comment since my tastebuds have never encountered meat in any form (other than a 'gavage-ish' session when I was seven/eight yrs old, when my well meaning but meat clueless vegetarian parents tried to coax me to eat chicken to expand my palate, by getting me to try the Gerbers mushed food!), ..but in all fairness.. being part of this crowd has definitely made me respect the other perspective way more than I expected.
Panfusine June 14, 2012

WE say that the Govt shdn't interfere in what the people chose to it as in the Foie gras issue.
They looked the other way when Fast foods went Rampant & now the healthy food eating population is picking up the tab for those who've brought Diabetes, CHolesterol, & heart trouble upon themselves & need to be medicated for these ailments. & yet, if Washington was to whisper about controlling the FF industry, the paid yes men (I'd prefer using a filthier sounding term for these characters, but will refrain) on K street would incite a media revolt. Does this mean that the rest of us need to keep quiet & pay up?

There are a lot more malpractices going on the Meat & poultry industry that constantly put the consumers at risk for serious health issues.
Foie Gras is hardly a topic worth talking about. If Thomas Keller's existence is on the verge of extinction as a result of this.. then sorry, He fell on the wrong side of Darwins's theory.. too bad..
usuba D. June 14, 2012
So when do we get to talk about gestation crates? There is a practice that exceeds mistreatment of animals when compared to a gavage.
petitbleu June 14, 2012
I'm struggling to remember the name of the producer or the farm, but there's a pretty incredible foie gras producer in Spain who makes humane foie gras without force-feeding his animals. Apparently, at a certain time of year, I'm guessing before winter, geese gorge themselves naturally. This farmer provides the geese with all they can eat--grasses, fruits, etc.--and they simply gorge themselves.
Of course, this sort of farm is impossible if we want to satiate the masses with foie gras, which means that foie gras is a complete luxury item for a select few, and I doubt very much that we want to get into that discussion.
I disagree with the CA ban on a very basic level. I think it's silly for the government to decide what I can/should eat. I'm a big raw milk advocate, and frankly I think the government has no right to decide that I do not know what's best for me and that raw milk is intrinsically bad. Thus, I feel the same way about foie gras and soft drinks over 16 ounces in size.
HOWEVER, I have poultry of my own, and I know that if I were to try to force a feeding tube down any of their throats, not only would they freak out, they would never trust me again. They would see the tube and go crazy. Birds are not the smartest animals, but they do feel pain and fear. Basically, I think that the way we have come to view and treat livestock is appalling. Animals should be allowed (within reason--for instance, roosters will try to kill one another if in close proximity--I don't believe in letting roosters just go at each other to the death) to do what their instincts tell them to do. Chickens to scratch and peck and flap their wings. Cows to graze. Pigs to root around in the mud.
And I'm no vegetarian. I have killed chickens, ducks, and goats for food, but I have done so quickly and as painlessly as possible, and I have given those animals full lives with the ability to do what they do best.
This is all very idealistic, and I admit that. But the fact that we, people who think of ourselves as moral and ethical, and who are shocked and appalled when others abuse cats, dogs, and horses, can turn a blind eye to what goes on in concentrated animal feeding operations even when we know exactly what goes on, is unbelievable to me. It constitutes animal abuse, and we're okay with that for some reason.
I understand that true, humane meat is very pricey and that most cannot afford it, and there's no way around the fact that this is really awful. That we, as a society, need meat to feel like we're having a real meal. That if you buy plain ol' meat there's a stigma to that. That if you buy grass-fed beef or free-roaming chicken, you're a yuppie or trust-funder. That "good" meat is available only to the few. And that we feel we need to have meat--big pieces of it--as stand-alone components of a meal.
As an aside, the way most people view meat is really ridiculous. Always buying boneless skinless chicken breasts, for instance. Wow, I never knew that they grew chickens with no thighs, wings, legs, or skin! And filet mignon? Don't get me started.
My answer has gone far afield of the foie gras question, but in any case, why are we quibbling about a luxury item when there are so many more important issues to be dealt with (in terms of animal treatment and the way we view meat, but also just in general)? Frankly, who cares? The CA ban is silly, but only a little sillier than treating foie gras as a we-have-our-right-to-luxury-goods-dammit issue.
Pierino, you always know how to ignite the Food52 forums.
pierino June 14, 2012
Petitbleu, yes I am the resident bomb thrower. But you do make many good points. I love foie gras but not as a luxury item, just as good food. I love caviar too but the Caspian Sea has just about destroyed its sturgeon population with practices similar to shark finning---you can buy good fish eggs from California's Sacramento delta.
To your point about skinless, boneless whatever, it's crazy that some people don't even want to handle food, as in put their fingers on it. It must come in cozy foam packages and so on. I was taking a class in a real restaurant kitchen once where we were handed scallops. Someone two places from my station refused to even touch them. I said "great, I'll take yours" and I did.
Bottom line; food is food and I'm not going vegan any time soon.
ChefOno June 14, 2012

ATG117, you say you want to understand, so help me understand what isn't convincing:

The American Veterinary Medical Association has done two investigations, delegations toured farms and reviewed the scientific literature and found nothing of concern.

The Canadian government's department of agriculture did the same and declared current practices humane.

Reputable, responsible chefs like Thomas Keller have personally reviewed the practices and have declared them humane.

The New York Times did an investigation of the matter and came up with nothing.

Our own Chef June has related her personal experience.

So on one side you have PETA and a handful of the same ilk making wild claims, but when you actually tour the farms, nothing untoward is found. Just farmers raising flocks of happy birds, trying to make a living.

From the AVMA: "Observations and practical experience shared by…members indicate a minimum of adverse effects on the birds involved." One vet described gavage as "less distressing than taking the rectal temperature of a cat".

When I wrote that sentence above about angry geese I thought that would be the end of the debate. Obviously you've never had that experience and I guess most people haven't (which is a shame that we're not all more in touch with our food).

There's simply no way anyone could get a tube down the bird's throat if they were the least bit upset about it. The commotion would start with an ear-splitting HONK, feathers and clothing would fly in cartoon fashion and when the dust settled, the handler would be missing a finger. Or two. Maybe an eye. (I'm not kidding.)

pierino June 14, 2012
I'm glad I'm not a cat.
Abby A. June 14, 2012
Are these the same happy ducks who are unable to move because they are so fat? I’ve seen studies that counter that you are saying but more powerful to me is a simple search on YouTube showing what goes on in there. One has to look away. Unless these are actor ducks :/
Abby A. June 14, 2012

There is a clear line between fattening animals up to increase our food supply AND intentionally overstuffing animals with levels their bodies cannot handle in order to create an essentially diseased organ that has grown to 10 times its normal size to create a “delicacy”.

I have not seen ducks and geese elbowing one another to the funnel but I have seen a framer hold their head in place with one hand while he put the funnel in the mouth with the other.
pierino June 14, 2012
The ban in California was actually enacted 7 years ago to give the duck farmers time to try and figure out a satisfactory alternative to gavage. So far nobody has been able to come up with one. But unlike say, bluefin tuna, we're not in danger of running out of ducks anytime soon. There really is only one producer of foie gras in California but the law bans the import and sale anywhere in the state.
Ducks actually have a sort of Pavlovian response to the clang of the feeding funnel. They run to it and try to elbow each other out of the way, or at least they would if they had elbows. Ducks are waterfowl. They are not chickens so they don't just peck at things on the ground---another misconception. You can shove a whole fish down a duck's throat and they might say, "please sir, may I have another?"
BoulderGalinTokyo June 14, 2012
Such passion on BOTH sides!
ATG117 June 13, 2012
I don't know that this is a matter of PETAphiles. I don't consider myself at all extreme in my feelings about animal treatment, and I asked to hear the other side out of genuine curiosity. And perhaps I need to do more research, but I am still unconvinced that this practice is okay. If ducks enjoy being fatted up, let them do it on their own as people have mentioned. If they don't do it on their own, it would seem they don't like it so much. They may not be people, but I don't think that discounts the argument for humane treatment. And by using terms like petaphiles, your argument becomes just as inflammatory and emotional as you claim the other side to be when it uses terms like "force fed" and such. I look forward to looking into this further.
ChefOno June 13, 2012

The discussion is an attempt to present facts to those who have heard only one side of the issue, the side playing on emotions with charges of cruelty and inhumane treatment of the cute little animals. But the AVMA (U.S.) and the AAFC (Canada) have both recently investigated foie gras production and found no evidence of any harm or even discomfort.

Let me put it a different way: Anyone, and I mean *anyone* who has ever dealt with an angry goose knows without any doubt whatsoever that these animals are not being harmed.

Dismissing foie gras as "unnecessary" is precisely the idea we're supposed to swallow. Because it won't stop there. Politicians are already trying to tell us other foods we can and cannot consume, and in what amounts, based upon equally specious arguments.

Suggested reading material:


pierino June 13, 2012
ChefOno, thanks for staying on message. The context is everything despite what the PETAphiles are trying to sell you. Now you are going to have to put your hands up and back away from that 32 ounce Pepsi.
Panfusine June 13, 2012
So does the ban on Foie Gras mean that a section of the human population in California is headed for extinction due to starvation & foie gras deprivation? Don't think so..
Then why the discussion? I'm sure that there will be enterprising livestock farmers that will figure out a way to cut back on the cruel gavage while still getting geese fatted up for their livers..Its not as if Foie gras is a necessary staple for life to go on..
ChefOno June 12, 2012

Gavage has been used for thousands of years for the same reasons we don't wait for animals to die of old age before we eat them -- to create a steady, economical supply of high quality food.

Again, one has to get beyond simplistic anthropomorphic perspective to understand. Ducks and geese will eat whatever they can get their beaks on, but only at winter's onset. The urge to eat like that is driven by the same instincts that induce migration and breeding patterns -- completely different from the way humans function. It's not a matter of "feeling full" like for us. They will eat until their crop fills and they can't physically swallow anything more. Gavage just overrides the instinctual timing of that behavior.

Natural? Maybe not. But what of raising food is?

pierino June 12, 2012
Well put ChefOno.
Reiney June 12, 2012
Completely agree, Chef Ono (well, maybe not that Chef Barber is an ass, but with your other points) - in particular that one could take this to the extreme and claim that any raising food is inherently "unnatural."

I posted the video link because I think it does speak to how gavage appeals to the natural instincts of duck and geese - particularly since he's starting from the perspective that it is an uncomfortable concept for many people - and that there are alternatives being developed. Whether those alternatives are better/no change is another question!
ChefOno June 12, 2012

I stopped watching after hearing that idiot joke about cycling on steroids. What an ass.

Whatever he had to say will be meaningless in the long run anyway as gavage isn't really the issue. There will be an equal number of complaints about the health of the animal with an enlarged liver (like the goose wasn't going to be cooked one way or another) or the unnaturalness of tricking a poor duck into thinking it's winter (like the bird can think).

Reiney June 12, 2012
It's also possible to create foie gras without gavage. Spanish farms have done it and Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barn in NY is a proponent on this side of the pond. For more about "natural" foie gras - basically tricking geese & ducks into thinking they're about to migrate, so they voluntarily gorge themselves - view this video here (~20 mins):

Abby A. June 12, 2012
If the birds love overeating some much, why not just leave lots and lots of food right in front of them and let them go at it? Yet for some reason they stop when they’ve had enough and humans pry their beaks open, restricting them from moving, and shove food unto them. I’ll spare us the image ( plenty on the web) but I’m surprised all of the ”free range” advocates have nothing to say.
ChefOno June 12, 2012

As for the government, these are the same politicians responsible for the economic messes of their cities and states who struggle with concepts far easier to comprehend like "don't spend more than you make". They hope taking on issues like this will make them appear as though they are doing something at the capital besides eating their lunches and spending our money. I don't expect that's going to change anytime soon either.

ChefOno June 12, 2012

The people leading these emotional attacks also believe that eating animals is unacceptable. Foie gras is simply a subset of the larger issue and I wouldn't expect a meeting of the minds to ever occur.

Remove the anthropomorphism and emotion and the entire picture changes:

Ducks and geese don't have a gag reflex like we do and they have a crop (an enlarged portion of the esophagus) in which they routinely store food for later digestion. To these birds, the feeding tube is nothing more than a fish and process is nothing but a free meal.

SKK June 12, 2012
Well said, ChefJune!
ChefJune June 12, 2012
There are always more than two sides to every issue. So far, the PETA-type folks have been very vocal (even annoyingly aggressive) in putting forth their view that gavage is harmful to the geese/ducks. Most of the moderate thinkers and even foie gras advocates and lovers have silently discounted their rantings and figured things would go on as they always had. Until California.

So now, tardily, chefs, farmers, lovers of foie gras, and others of moderate persuasion are scurrying to catch up in the education of the American eater, so they will have at least another side to this story. Ducks/geese are not built like humans. In fact, they overeat of their own volition -- and have done so since time immemorial -- in preparation for their migrations. If you've ever been on a farm and had the opportunity to scratch a duck's throat (much like scratching a dog's belly), they open their mouths looking for a handout! Gavage doesn't hurt them, and on the farms I'm familiar with, they are free to roam and are treated like poultry royalty. No pens, electronic probes, etc....

One would certainly think a state legislature had better things to legislate than gavage....
pierino June 12, 2012
savorthis June 11, 2012
I am actually in the middle of the Foie Gras Wars right now. it is a pretty interesting (and fair, I think, so far) read. I recommend it to anyone looking for more information to help form better opinions- regardless of what side you might be on.
pierino June 12, 2012
Treating ducks and geese to the gavage is about as inhumane as force feeding Homer Simpson donuts.
pierino June 11, 2012
Part of the problem is the term "force feeding", like "pink slime" it sends you off on another vector. Its an anthropromorphic thing where people think that ducks are like us. They're not. Their anatomy is different, and as I said above, the feeding for the ducks is total duckgasm. They like it. I'm not suggesting that you force feed your dog, or cat or goldfish but just put it perspective.
Abby A. June 11, 2012
to gavage: "The process requires farmers to force-feed ducks or geese with funnel-like tubes rammed down their gullets, enlarging the liver to 10 times its normal size”

This is not ok.

Even if we are to argue that they don’t mind being over fed, or even like it, I’m sure they mind the funnel and the restriction, lack of freedom and the all around unnaturalness of it all. Yes, maybe there are bigger issues to tackle but there is no way that this is humane.
pierino June 11, 2012
See, "rammed down their gullets" is already setting up the discussion in the wrong way. The funnel is'nt "rammed". PETA people would like to put that image in your mind. These ducks and geese will have a short life anyway but at least it will be a merry one for them. And then it's our turn...
MTMitchell June 11, 2012
The biggest gripe I had about the ban that was passed (and has since been rescinded) in Chicago is that when the Chicago City Council proposed and debated on and passed the ban the city was in the middle of a serious outbreak of violence/ gang warfare, mostly involving young people/ teenagers. It seemed to me that the Council's focus on foie gras was slightly....misguided. And I agree with other posters about the need for more comprehensive actions/ reforms around food and animal treatment and also wondered about other parts of the duck. Has there been any demonstration that a foie gras ban leads to changed practices besides the one obvious shift? Is it like a "gateway ban" that prompts better practices overall? I don't think anyone looked at that in Chicago at least before they rescinded the ban but I was so fed up with the City Council that I didn't really follow the issue at the time.
ATG117 June 11, 2012
I 100% oppose the unethical treatment of all animals, and I recognize that factory farming is a much larger problem than is foie gras production. But what I don't understand is how force feeding ducks and making them live with enlarged livers is okay. I mean this out of curiosity and a willingness to hear the other side when I ask whether someone can make a good argument for this treatment of ducks and thus foie gras production. Maybe I'm just ill-informed. I actually think I asked this once on hotline in relation to another thread, but I don't believe I ever got an answer. Apologies in advance if I'm being redundant.
SKK June 10, 2012
In support of the argument to take on the real issues this report was just published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

"About 50% of supermarket bought poultry is contaminated with fecal matter. This, according to a recent report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
Poultry was purchased from 15 grocery chains in 10 cities across the country and sent to a lab for testing. The presence of e. coli bacteria serves as a marker for the presence of fecal matter. Before we share the results, you should know that PCRM is an animal rights group, which strongly supports vegetarianism, and it definitely has an agenda here. Regardless, the results of a simple lab test, by a reputable third part lab, are nothing short of revolting.
About half of the chicken samples (48%), tested positive for chicken shit!
Poultry was purchased at Safeway, Kroger, HEB, Publix, Ralphs and others. Cities sampled include Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Denver, Chicago, and Washington DC. Antibiotic free chicken did not fare better then conventionally raised chicken. Organic chicken was not sampled.
The tests found the presence of e coli. According to PCRM:
E. coli is a specific indicator of fecal contamination and is used by slaughter and processing plants to check for fecal contamination of food products and water, following USDA requirements.
Most chickens grown for slaughter live in very tight quarters where they
defecate on themselves and one another and commonly stand in feces. Feces are also present in intestines at the time of slaughter. As a result, feces are common in poultry farms, transport vehicles, and slaughter plants.
Slaughterhouses process as many as 140 chickens PER MINUTE. The USDA requires testing just one out 22,000 chickens slaughtered for e. coli. It’s a wonder that only half end up contaminated.
Needless to say, you should heat your chicken to a minimum of 165 degrees Farenheit to make sure that the the e. coli has died.
Anyone grilling today?"
Idontdotrix August 30, 2012
psst- a boatload of cantaloupes lettuce, pickles (yeah, pickles!) and other produce recently all just caused e coli transmissions to people too. so what's your point PCRM promoter?
only meat products can ever have e coli? did you know that many of the strains found on fruits and vegetables are actually more virulent than that found in meat?
you've got e coli right now, living in your own gut. so does everyone else. all warm blooded mammals do.
those boogeyman big farms and processors you rant about at least have USDA inspectors, when "boutique" farms like one very famous one in a shock-you-mentary I won't name intentionally raises only 20k birds for slaughter a year so they can AVOID having a USDA inspector. oh, and they process their birds out in the open, with cats grabbing bites when they can- I've seen this personally. I woudl much rather have my factory processed birds from a cleaner facility, thanks.
I eat a lot of eggs (and meat and fish and dairy) - I'm chronically anemic and need animal protein derived iron and B12- and I've only gotten salmonella one. guess where it came from? peanut butter! yep, another all veg product!
so enough with the scare tactics already. I'm not about to take eating advice from a group of so called "experts" who barely have any physicians on their "physicians' committee" and who call cheese "dairy crack- the worst form of the milk drug"
if you don't like it, don't eat it but for the lovepete, enough already with the big scary boogeyman 'organic fertilizer' you're trying to sell!
SKK June 9, 2012
The ban nicely takes attention of truly horrible conditions of factory farming. This ban is a do-gooder knee jerk reaction to avoid taking on the tough issues.
Reiney June 9, 2012
I think foie gras is extremely overrated BUT the ban is ridiculous and misguided. It's an easy scapegoat (scapeduck?Har.) to single out this one practice and think that a victory has been won for animal welfare. Ban the products of factory farming and then let's talk, activists.

And I take it the other parts of the duck that encased the engorged liver - thighs, breast, frames, fat - won't be banned, right? Effective legislatin' there, CA.
Recommended by Food52