Foie Gras, Fat Liver, Force-Feeding
Super-Excellent or Unacceptable
Foie gras (pronounced /fwɑːˈɡrɑː/ in English; French for “fat liver”) is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. This fattening is typically achieved through gavage (force-feeding) corn, according to French law, though outside of France it is rarely produced using natural feeding. Pâté de foie gras was formerly known as “Strasbourg pie” in English due to that city being a major producer of this food product.
Foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavour is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of a regular duck or goose liver. Foie gras is sold whole, or is prepared into mousse, parfait, or pâté (the lowest quality), and is often served as an accompaniment to another food item, such as steak.
The technique of gavage dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the ancient Egyptians began keeping birds for food and deliberately fattened the birds through force-feeding. Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed worldwide, particularly in other European nations, the United States, and China.
Gavage-based foie gras production is controversial, due to the force feeding procedure and the possible health consequences of an enlarged liver that could be faced by the duck or goose. A number of countries and other jurisdictions have laws against force feeding or the sale of foie gras.
Since 1997, the number of European countries producing foie gras has halved. Only five countries still produce foie gras: Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Hungary.
French law states that “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.”
Award-winning Spanish producer Patería de Sousa produces foie gras under the brand Ganso Ibérico by taking advantage of the natural instinct of geese to fatten their livers in preparation for migration, which results in a seasonal product, as slaughter can only happen in winter, prior to migration. Others have expressed skepticism at these claims of humane treatment, as earlier attempts to produce fattened livers without gavage have not produced satisfactory results. In 2006, Schiltz Goose Farms began developing non-force-fed fatty goose livers by similar seasonal methods, producing their first “fatty goose livers” in 2007, with sizes two to three times that of normal goose livers (by comparison with up to six times for force-fed geese).
Eduardo Sousa, a farmer in the Extremadura region of Spain is, according to chef Dan Barber, raising geese that bear the best foie gras the chef’s tasted. The critical part of the story, though, is that Sousa does not force feed the geese. He apparently lets their inclination to gorge themselves, once required for migration, take care of the fattening and simply makes sure they have all they want—nuts, olives, etc., but no corn. This suggests of course that farmers who force feed their geese and ducks are simply controlling what the ducks would do naturally and that the folks who want to prohibit the production and sale of foie gras on the grounds of animal cruelty have one less leg to stand on.