Foie Gras au Torchon/photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I spotted a tiny news item in this morning’s Plain Dealer, culled from The San Francisco Chronicle reports, and was thrilled to see people like Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello, Tyler Florence, and scores of other chefs beginning to protest California’s hypocritical and uninformed ban on foie gras that goes into effect this summer. (Watch news story video from KCRA.)

While likely begun as self-aggrandizing soap-boxing by former state Senator John Burton in 2004 (read his LA Times op-ed reasoning), as it was done by Chicago City Council Alderman Joe Moore in 2007, embarrassing the city, which repealed the law in 2008, we’re hoping that California legislators evaluate their actual motives for the ban. If they truly care about the humane treatment of the animals we kill for food, they would do this country a better and real service by focusing not on the hundreds of thousands of ducks raised for foie gras (in relative luxury), but rather on the billions, I repeat, billions, of chicken, hogs, and cattle that are rushed through the industrial grinder so that Americans can auto-gavage on cheap, tasteless meat and their heaping platefuls of crap at Applebees and Cheesecake Factory, Burger King and McDonalds, and all traffickers of cheap, unhealthy food.

This should be a wake-up call not for chefs but for politicians to educate themselves on industrial livestock framing, and not use their own and their staff’s time shutting down farmers who are actually raising animals humanely. Do any politicians do ANY good anymore? Could we start a list? It might take a long time, because it’s likely to be a short one.

Educate yourself by reading Mark Caro’s extremely balanced and well-reported book, The Foie Gras Wars.

Purchase foie from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, make your own Foie Gras au Torchon (pictured above), and serve it casually at home! Have a look at Bob delGrosso’s visit to Hudson Valley Foie Gras, nice slideshow.

Be smart.

This image shows the underside of the two lobes of a foie gras (fat liver) from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, before deveining it for the torchon preparation above.

If you liked this post on the Foie Gras, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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50 Wonderful responses to “Foie Gras Wars Back On”

  • Larry Ellis

    Thankfully more and more respected professionals are speaking
    out about this ridiculous ban! Keep at it , Michael.

  • BG

    Idiotic nannystate crap. Unfortunately there’s not enough politicians with the last name Paul to go around. Both major parties are nanny state pimps. The same ignorance that has taken over the 2 major parties is the same ignorance that led to all that cheap tasteless crap out there.

  • sundevilpeg

    My only problem with the NorCal chefs is that they waited until the VERY LAST POSSIBLE SECOND to organize their opposition, and the ONE farm that raises poultry for foie gras production in Cali, Sonoma Foie Gras, has already thrown in the towel. Chris Cosantino says basically the same thing; this is from the 4/19 edition of EaterSF.com:

    Christopher Cosentino
    Restaurants: Incanto in San Francisco and Umamicatessen in LA

    “… It’s a hot button topic. The problem is everyone waited until the last six months. This has been a law that’s been set in stone for the past seven years. Why does everyone wait until now to talk about it? Nobody tried to repeal or help…”

    BTW, Joe Moore, the knucklehead in Chicago who cooked up our short-lived ordinance, is my alderman, sad to say. There is not ONE SINGLE RESTAURANT in our ward, then or now, that serves foie gras. He’s big on legislating morality for others.

    • Nels

      Yeah great law! Because “Prohibition” has always lead to such positive results in this country! I’d like to beat the authors of this crap legislation into submission with a sack fiull of live badgers! THEN make them eat a bucket of “original recipie” in a factory farm poultry house!

  • Austin Val

    You are so right about the misplaced concern for animal welfare.

  • Jessica

    For pete’s sake. If you can’t stand the idea of foie gras, don’t eat it. There are certainly other foods you can apply environmental (for one) immorality to (such as some farmed fish and sea food).

  • Nancy Singleton Hachisu

    We live on a farm in Japan and we eat our chickens, ducks, and rabbits sometimes. No one likes the killing process, but it REALLY is a reality of life.

    I also am close friends with the Dubois farm in the Périgord where the Sonoma Foie Gras people learned their craft. The women of the Périgord have been producing foie gras for many generations–they raised just a couple of geese for the family holiday meals and then a few more which were sold for pocket money. The only pocket money that farm women had.

    And to this day, these small eleveurs still use every speck of the goose–except the very top head portion and the bottom feet. The gaveur treats the birds with love and respect and he or she is the same person who kills the birds because the killing process must be with love otherwise the foie and the meat will seize up.

    I ended up married to a Japanese farmer and many, many of my ideas were changed because of this life. Perhaps it would make sense for the people who are so adamantly against these age-old practices to actually experience them with an open mind.

    And how arrogant are we as Americans to dictate how the cultures of the world operate? Sometimes I am ashamed to be an American.

  • Marina

    The way food industry goes soon we all will be able to eat a real food only if we grow it. I am glad that people like you, Tomas Keller and many other celebrity chefs are speaking up.

  • David

    Another temporary politician violating the Constitution telling us what we are permitted to eat….surprise! Thank you Michael for your crusade to get people to understand that they CAN roast a chicken, or make a torchon. BTW I was at a dinner in LA (last year) where foie was being protested outside…by paid union hacks who left promptly at 9pm, another “surprise”.

  • Carly

    It’s just so disheartening that we are STILL doing this thing where we protect big agra, let them self-regulate, gloss over the outbreaks and epidemics directly linked to them – and attack at every turn small farmers and producers who actually care about what they do and about the animals and land in their care. But I’m very interested in Chris Cosentino’s comments – people often don’t know or care until it’s too late. In PA it seems like every day now I read an article about a horrible new state law that very few people seemed to know about until it actually took effect. Obviously, that’s a problem much bigger than the foie gras issue alone.

  • bob del Grosso

    Bring it on Michael. HSUS , PETA and satellite groups like Hugs for Puppies picked the wrong industry to use as an example of inhumane farming practices when they took on the foie gras producers. To their credit, they have lately been paying more attention to gigantic cram and feed poultry and pork operations but their continued harassment of highly ethical farms like Hudson Valley Foie Gras and their take down of the Ca foie gras industry is shameful.

  • Mary

    Actually, I’m not sure that the politicians are needing education on the cow/pig/chicken story, when I think about it… they seem pretty aware of the whole crazy food industry. It’s pretty big money — that industry. Politics. [shakes head] The ducks? The ban on foie gras and the cry for humane treatment could that be just a convenient bone to throw out for “cosmetic effect,” or a smoke screen of care and action that hides the funding from or turning of a blind eye to the big guys?

  • Saads12

    You are right on the money about the hypocritical nature of this ban. But the politicians aren’t concerned about that. As Bourdain once said, it is the forces of evil congregating here.

  • James Rosse

    I’ll guess that one reason this went through is because foie gras is not something you see on common tables, it’s for rich folks only. Personally, I’m not a fan of liver, but it’s a good way to use the stuff. If you’re going to kill something, you’d better damned well not be throwing away something that should be used. Goose/Duck feet can even be used in certain markets. I don’t know about heads, however. Pig heads==head cheese, at least.

    • mantonat

      Not to disagree with you, but there’s no way in hell livers from ducks or geese raised for foie gras would ever be thrown away. The animals have to be raised a certain way to get the livers in the right condition, otherwise it’s not foie gras. This is the entire basis for the pros and cons of banning foie gras production: is the process of creating foie gras inherently cruel to animals? You may be interested in that book Ruhlman recommends: The Foie Gras Wars.

    • Natalie Luffer Sztern

      James, I don’t know where you live however we here in Quebec can get foie gras at the Grocery store it is such a highly demanded food. It shouldn’t be only for the rich and it would have been a great step in Educating himself/herself who wants this law passed to have visited any one Quebec farm specializing in Foie Gras. We do not think in any way that this is inhumane and that is because our farmers are careful and do care for their animals. Canada Food and Agriculture is such a difficult branch of our government and they have investigated to great extent how and why of producing Foie Gras here in Quebec. Had concerns been raised they would surely have stopped and also banned Foie Gras and I must tell you from personal experience that the Canadian Food and Agriculture is one tough nut to crack it is so strict.

  • Jason

    Why buy from Hudson, why not support those affected by the ban? Buy from Sonoma Foie Gras…..

  • imajoebob

    Your ridiculously asinine statement about ducks being raised in “relative luxury’ shows you’re as big or bigger a hypocrite than any of these legislators. Perhaps next you’ll tell us about the “peaceful relaxation” of tortuous veal pens?

    • Michael Chiarello

      Joe Bob…have you visited a Foie Gras producer to be in such detailed knowledge? I you have maybe you could share where as I believe I have seen all the producers in the US farms and we could compare notes.
      M. Chiarello

  • Nate

    imajoebob-
    “relative luxury”. Definition of “relative” – considered in relation to something else; comparative. Relative to industrial farming practices…

    Speaking of asinine?

  • ohiofarmgirl

    Preach it, Michael. The whole thing is ridiculous. Them geese aint suffering a bit. I have geese and I tell you the truth, if they took exception to the process they’d turn on the farmers in a hot second. Geese can be very mean, are big, and can be hard to handle. If my gander could get into my house, he’d shiv me in my sleep. I got scars to prove he won’t go quietly if he isn’t willing. People have have all kinds of crazy ideas about farm animals and very few of those folks have actually been out in the barnyard with them.

  • Todd

    Love the imagery of humans auto-gavaging at McDonald’s. Powerful sentence, powerful piece.

  • karen downie makley

    i don’t have any answers and i am slow to form opinions, but i suspect, despite hunger issues (both here in the cushy US as well as abroad in similar economies) food really IS too cheap…at least in terms of animal protein. every goose, duck, pig, cow, chicken, fish, rabbit, or deer that lays down its life for us IS a big deal and we should commemorate it as such. it should never be a BOGO special at the grocery store…whether it’s foie gras or inexpensive chicken thighs. they are crucifying one specialty market while another dozen (cheaper) markets go uncorrected.

  • sasha

    hi michael, great article. i am in pittsburgh currently and there is no where to go for my foie gras fix- its just tragic.unfortunately restaurants here have succumbed to all the protests and political propoganda. there are some ambitious chefs like kevin souza and the like but it feels like theres a limit on how much you can do in a place like pittsburgh

  • Monty

    “You make take our lives, but you will never take our TORCHON!!!”

    Seriously people, if THIS is what ruffles your feathers, you need to examine your priorities.

    • Mantonat

      Perhaps you should read a little more than just the headline before you decide to spout witticisms in place of an honest opinion. The point here is not that a bunch of rich people are upset because a luxury item may become illegal. The point is that animals are suffering in factory farms and poor-quality, unhealthy meat is being subsidized by the government because elected officials are too scared to stand up to big-money lobbyists. Meanwhile, an anti-foie gras law that does nothing but prey on fear and attitudes like yours might get passed. Ruhlman and others are calling on people to go after the real problem instead of concentrating on a minute fraction of the otherwise dysfunctional agricultural food chain in this country. So it’s really quite the opposite of your assertion; foie gras is just a red herring while the real problem gets glossed over.

    • Carly

      This is a good point, because no one has ever cared about two or more things simultanously.

    • bob del Grosso

      That is a very fair comment. But the hyperbole on both sides of the issue can sound pretty stupid.
      I’d also like to remind everyone that this law has put farmers out of business and robbed jobs from their workers. And if you keep caving into to the demands of the people behind this law, you will be well on your way to a world where no one is allowed to raise animals for food any reason other than what they permit.

  • faustianbargain

    am i the only one who finds it interesting that this ‘proposal’ by the chefs comes 2 months before the actual ban? from huff po piece: [...]When the ban was signed into effect, producers were given a window to come up with alternative production methods, but the window closes on July 1. As the deadline has neared, foie gras proponents have hosted fundraiser dinners, worked to correct past violations and, as of Monday, proposed new regulations.[...] > really? fundraiser dinners?

    [...]The Farewell to Foie Gras lunch celebrated the rogue delicacy with a five-course meal dedicated to foie gras, presented by chefs from around the country. Dishes ranged from San Francisco Chef Chris Cosentino’s whole-bird squab with foie gras and hay to Miami Chef Andre Bienvenu’s lobster and stone crab hot pot with foie gras noodles.[...]

    this is not news. this is a bunch of chefs trying to make a quick buck in the last minute by sensationalising a dead duck that can no longer walk, never mind fly. i have completely lost respect for all things ‘foodie’ in this country. thank you, celebrity chefs and f-loggers.

    [...]“This is a group of people with a set of beliefs and they’re imposing their beliefs on others,” Cosentino, one of the nation’s most vocal opponents of the ban, told HuffPost. “The minority is telling the majority that we shouldn’t eat something because they feel that we shouldn’t eat it. You know what else we shouldn’t eat? Ninety-nine-cent hamburgers that are actually hurting people and spreading salmonella in young children. But is the solution banning hamburgers? No. It’s fixing the system, just like CHEFS is trying to do with foie gras.”[..] if you cant make ‘great food’ without meat, it just means that you are a shitty chef.[..] wow! really..the ‘minority’ is telling the ‘majority’? how much of a fame whore is chris cosentino? 99 c hamburgers that are actually hurting people? you know why people eat cheap food? its because THEY CANT AFFORD FOIE GRAS.

    I can’t even go on..my head fucking hurts as i dig up more moronic ‘chef’ comments on the issue. my condolences. don’t cry over your morning porridge..come july 1st, my foodie friends.

    • mantonat

      Really? Poor people eat cheap meat because they can’t afford foie gras? Is that why rich people are walking around with paper sacks full of foie gras burgers? No, poor people – and pretty much everyone in America – are eating substandard meats (and grains and vegetables) in the form of over-processed, over-medicated, chemical-laden convenience food because we have been convinced that we don’t have enough time or money to cook and eat real food. Nobody sees the poor conditions the animals and other foods are produced in or that workers have to put up with. Your elected officials are ok with this because companies like ConAgra and Monsanto have a ton of influence in elections and legislative sessions. If you think it’s all just about depriving rich people of an esoteric luxury meat, read Tomato Land by Barry Estabrook. Enough bad food makes everyone sick – those who eat it and those who produce it. So the answer is go after the easy target that people like you will scoff at.

  • Susie

    What are you people thinking… It is NOT okay in any way shape or form to force feed a goose or duck for the express purpose of causing an abnormal physical condition, and I’m sure painful condition, of an enlarged liver for the sole purpose of harvesting said liver as a culinary delight.

    • Mark

      Is it okay for a coyote to catch a goose in its teeth and rip it to shreds and eat it half alive? Because thats what happens in nature, you want to ban nature? This just highlights how pointless and stupid it is to endow animals with human rights, it’s intellectually stunted.

  • Tags

    This is a lose-lose situation. Not only are the animal activists using up valuable time and resources to attack foie gras, but opponents of this bill are doing the same thing. We really should be expending our energy to bolster the forces of change in the House and help them take back the Senate. If we can get more people to register and show up in November, we will be in a better position to help duck farmers in January. Don’t forget, the President, if reelected, will not have to worry about reelection again and can do more with his next majority.

  • allen

    I just had a Costco 4.99 rotisserie chicken, I respect Costco for there fair prices and they try to carry good merchandise, the price of the chicken and the hot dogs at 1.50 have been the same since the stores debut.
    I was in a rush – the usual excuse for fast food dinning, but after making my own for years, using good organic chicken ( alot of which Costco carries) and always – as Fergus Henderson says: “honoring the whole animal, it’s being kind to the animal by doing so”
    I make a great stock and use the parts; liver pate, fried gizzards, hearts seared in sherry macerated shallots and make cracklin’s with the skin for lot of meals and of course save the rendered fat to season my skillet and roast veggies (just a tsp).
    But this Costco chicken was so watery and I felt guilty eating it and felt sorry for chucking the carcass, no way am I using that thing for stock. The meat did not have any flavor and the skin was soggy. Perhaps I’ve become snooty, I know they can feed a lot of hungry people and it would make a good stock for someone that could not afford an organic chicken but I’ll stay with my routine. After all, it’s fairly economical considering how many meals I get out of one good organic chicken.

    • allen

      It seem odd replying to my own post but I felt the need to comment on the effectiveness of factory farmed food for feeding a lot of people safely.
      As cruel as it is, they are no longer pets but a commodity that is used to feed a lot of people safely and efficiently.
      I’ve seen the documentaries, including HBO documentary that was filmed in Ohio about factory farmed pigs and was appalled. But they do keep a lot of meat packaged at a low price safely that could not be done on a small farm.
      To justify the reasoning for buying a better organic chicken, the math is about the same even though it seems twice the cost at approximately 10.00 vs 4.99.
      If you consider the amount of water and crap they use to inject the factory farmed animals to make them bigger and safer the actual meat yield would be higher on the smaller organic animal with much less water in the meat.
      Even if it’s not quite double the yield, the organic will taste better without all of the other stuff pumped into it.
      But from a nutritionist stand point they would probably yield the same nutrients and do it safely on a much larger scale at the factory farm.

      • mantonat

        “Safely” is the problem word here. Factory farms are the main source of food-born-illness outbreaks and the result is sick or dead people and a great waste of food due to recalls and the destruction of tainted food. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner in the US because you are right – food is cheaper than ever as a % of income. But nutritionally speaking, it’s also worse for us than ever. The meat from grain- and soy-fed livestock has been shown to increase inflammation and hardening of the arteries, unlike meat from pasture-fed animals. The close quarters and unnatural feeds lead to endemic diseases which must be treated (through antibiotics and other chemicals), making the meat even less fit for consumption. Animals are pumped full of hormones to shorten the time to market, causing the meat to be less nutrient-rich and possibly unhealthy (due to the hormones). So the end result is that your Costco rotisserie chicken is bland and watery, which many people can overlook. But the long-term consumption of this kind of product also leads to a variety of health problems plaguing American right now.

        • allen

          I disagree, the factory farms actually have monitoring in place and science to back it up, a small scale farm does not. And the terms organic, free range are loosely used, mostly just something they can charge a lot more money for.
          I know the injections and high water content affect the flavor and the small farms that do not use these methods have better flavor. As for nutritional value: a lb. of chicken is a lb. of chicken for calories and nutrients, and safe guards are in place to make sure it’s safe.
          Give credit to these farms for producing that much meat safely and cheaply, a necessary evil.

  • Elmas

    In other words, it’s ok for the government to control what regular folks eat but not what we, the elite, the people who put your liberal butt in power, eat.

    Hmm… Maybe those people fighting against “big government” and how it tries to control every aspect of our lives have a point.

  • Mic

    Michael, pointing to another bad situation (or worse, of you prefer) is a very weak argument. Yes, I’m with you on factory farming. And I support this proposed ban.

  • Ryan Silva

    Mic
    Michael, pointing to another bad situation (or worse, of you prefer) is a very weak argument. Yes, I’m with you on factory farming. And I support this proposed ban.

    There have been other posts here and links from this post about exposing the myths of foie gras production so Michael didn’t go into detail about that. In short: happy ducks make good foie gras (and the inverse is also true). Good farms care for their ducks and they have a pretty good life, especially compared with the birds in the factory farms. So it certainly would be hypocritical to ban these foie gras farms without also banning farms that treat their animals far worse. If you don’t want to eat either, that’s fine. But I don’t think that the good foie gras farms treat their ducks poorly, and certainly not poorly enough to warrant legal action.

    Any mention of “force feeding” elicits a reaction from most people but from what I’ve watched of it from the good farms, it’s really not that bad. Ducks are anatomically very different from humans especially in the throat.

  • Kay

    In light of your article, I was wondering if anybody in the government had any comments on the fact that some poultry served in certain fast food restaurants could not be called chicken any more because of the genetic modification of the bird. What ever it is called now, it is pumped out to fast food chains and there does not seem to be any ban on deformed chicken

  • bob del Grosso

    Ducks and geese swallow frogs and fish whole. They don’t need to chew because they have no gag reflex. That’s why you can feed them through a tube without causing them distress. Why so many people choose to ignore this is beyond understanding.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    bob del Grosso
    And if you keep caving into to the demands of the people behind this law, you will be well on your way to a world where no one is allowed to raise animals for food any reason other than what they permit.

    I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed.

  • Matt

    Great post Michael. There is a very well thought out and articulate op-ed on the Incanto website about the self-righteous nature of the situation. If interested it is at http://incanto.biz/2012/04/29/the-r-spot/

    I have thought about this particular topic quite a bit and have very strong opinions on it – I always believed people should have a choice in the matter — EDUCATE yourself (which includes thinking about the facts in a rational manner) and if you are ok with the facts go ahead and eat it; if the facts don’t sit with you, fine, just don’t eat it. It is such a niche market that in the end supply and demand will prevail. If there are enough people not eating the stuff, chefs have little incentive to serve it and so will stop ordering it. No one is vain enough to keep an item that expensive on a menu or on store shelves if it cannot be moved.

  • Will

    While it’s not that far reaching, California does have Prop 2, which does institute some improvements for the lives of factory farmed animals. I think it’s clear that our residents want better treatment for animals, so “hypocritical”, while true in a sense, seems like a slightly strong word to me. Most people don’t like to think about where their food comes from too much, but I think most people would also want to see improvements in the lives of other animals raised for food (especially chickens raised for eggs) if they were more aware of the issues. I do think it’s true that this is a wedge issue (and one connected to luxury), much like fur — because most people don’t eat foie gras, and because most people who do are well-to-do, there is a certain amount of anti-elitism involved.

    As a vegetarian and California resident, I’m not at all unhappy about the ban. I’ve read the Caro book, and I thought it was well written and well-reasoned (though he ends up coming down more on the other side of the argument from me). I agree that the issue is not as black and white as many people portray it — but just because something is possibly “more cruel” in some ways doesn’t mean that I’m going to defend something like gavage.

    I think one point that people who argue for humane treatment of animals tend to miss is that if we’re eating more humanely treated animals, most of us are going to be eating a LOT less meat, because of both cost and availability. And, the fact that this would not be palatable to many is one reason that these changes are unlikely to happen anytime soon. Another reason is that the industrial “producers” have a lot of lobbying power.

    As others have said, the ban has been law for years, so it would have made a lot more sense for these chefs to make a big stink about it back then. I’m sure, as in Chicago, that people will find creative ways around the ban, but I hope some chefs will spend the energy coming up with more ethical alternatives instead.

  • Epicuranoid

    I read this when you first posted it and pretty much agreed, though I also agree with the comments above that it is not so much hypocritical of the CA people, probably more ignorant in the most innocent sense of the word. In contrast, on the part of the legislators and the special interest groups, it is ignorant in the guiltiest sense of the word. Because they knowingly pick this low hanging fruit which will not cause the ‘masses’ to revolt and in the end they go to bed feeling all sanctimonious and altruistic.

    I came back this morning to read the comments over my coffee and was pleased to do so. This is why I read this blog. Running my business and raising my family leaves me little time to gather new information and opinions essential to staying current in the restaurant/food business. There is always a lot here for me. Your readers are so awesome (even the bots don’t suck?) and diverse and I have to say that I enjoyed the comments here today as much as anything I’ve read on the topic of the CA Foie Gras Ban.

    On topic, as a guy who sells hundreds of pounds of conventionally raised pork a week yet hates what pig farms do, this topic is very close to me. My on-line presence of Epicuranoid lives in that space “between the fulfillment of desire and the onset of guilt”. If I don’t serve 80% of my guests enough food so that they have some to throw away then 20% of them will think they got ripped off. So to stay in business I facilitate sinful waste — but it is a social issue, not a food issue. Foie Gras ducks and geese probably have it a lot better than the Cornish cross chicken which have been breed to force feed themselves to the point where they can’t stand up, especially since the majority of them are raised in cages the size of a shoe box. However, those organic supermarket chickens are often the same frankin-chickens that stuff themselves constantly and in 6 weeks they are pushing bare breasts (feathers rubbed off and skin stained with dirt) around the yard because their breasts are so fat they can’t lift them off of the ground.

    Soon, we will breed ducks to behave in the same way as the Cornish cross chicken and they will force feed themselves, but we will be fooling ourselves if we think that fixes the ethical problem. In truth, I think seeking the answers to these questions makes us better humans. Most people presented with the reality of our conventional animal husbandry would like to see us do better. Anyone who has ever raised an animal themselves and then killed it and eaten it feels a little guilt about it. That is ok. That feeling we have is the difference between eating an animal and being an animal.

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