Foie gras is one controversial cuisine that will always cause a stir. We pitted former London-eating.co.uk editor, Foodepedia founder and foie gras enthusiast Nick Harman against our very own founder, social entrepreneur and ethical eater Diana Verde Nieto to watch the feathers fly.
The For, Nick Harman – There are people who think foie gras should be banned, well my response appropriately enough is ‘get stuffed’. Why should a small but vocal group stop me eating what I like just because they don’t approve of the way it’s made? As it happens I don’t approve of the way cheap chickens are produced, but you won’t find me telling the nation’s underpaid they should stop eating affordable supermarket chicken and instead just stare hungrily at the unaffordable free range instead.
Battery farming of chickens is a well-known horror story but it’s one that’s only a relatively recent phenomenon and could be stopped tomorrow. The obstacle is simply that the government is scared of the big supermarkets and the possible negative reaction of voters when denied their cheap meat. Foie gras on the other hand has been created, most notably in Gascony, since time immemorial. Small, skilled, artisan producers rely on it for their income just as their parents, grandparents and great grandparents did. What are they supposed to do if foie gras is banned? Retrain as chicken abusers instead?
If foie gras was as affordable as factory-farmed chicken it would be in all our sandwiches every day and we would smack our lips, cry for more and damn the ducks. But as it’s expensive - foie gras is harder to produce than by simply herding a thousand chickens into a small space and waiting until their legs fall off – it’s seen as ‘posh people’s food’ and so valid for attack.
I spent last week eating almost nothing but duck products – duck breasts, duck legs, gizzards and foie gras – on a trip to the Gers in France. Every meal was delicious, every duck died for a good reason. The producers I met keep their birds in large grassy fields and, as far as one can ever tell from looking a duck in the eye, the birds seemed to have no complaints and waddled happily about, thoroughly enjoying their view of the Pyrenees and having interesting conversations with each other.
As for the force feeding, one has to have actually seen it in person to have an opinion and I am not sure all that many protesters have done so. Instead they rely on YouTube videos taken at duck farms that are totally atypical in my experience, and possibly not even in France but in Eastern Europe where different humanitarian standards have always applied, mostly to humans.
In the sunny farms of the Gers the birds almost queue up for their turn at the corn pipe, and while it’s obviously a form of addiction, they seem as cheerful as any addict is when getting a large and regular fix of what it craves. What I crave is foie gras and if anyone gets between me and my dealer there will be trouble.
The Against, Diana Verde Nieto – There are people who think foie gras should be allowed, well my response appropriately enough is ‘get plucked’. As someone in favour of all things British, I propose we refer to foie gras in translation – since it would take a pretty spectacular restaurant to make an order of ‘Fat Liver’ sound quite so appealing.
Foie gras is made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened; typically through ‘gavage’ (force-feeding) corn. Served as mousse, parfait or pâté this French delicacy is a popular yet controversial dish on account of its ‘méthode de production’. In most cases pipes are rammed down the throat of a duck or goose two or three times daily, pumping as much as 4 pounds of grain and fat into the animal’s stomachs and causing their livers to bloat to up to 10 times their normal size. The insertion of the pipe will often scratch the oesophagus, leaving it painful and prone to infection, and broken bills, spleen damage and organ ruptures are commonplace. To top it off the birds are often kept in cramped, unhygienic conditions which leave them vulnerable to disease- sound familiar? Looks like ‘posh people’s’ food is not a million miles away from the battery farmed chicken of the masses.
‘Atypical’ YouTube videos aside, force-feeding is the grim reality behind foie gras- and not just in Eastern Europe. I don’t use the ‘PETA’ word lightly, but their findings after an investigation into Hudson Valley foie gras in New York would make anyone feel queasy. So many ducks died when their organs ruptured from overfeeding that workers who killed fewer than 50 birds per month were given a bonus. Mmm, tasty. I believe ultimately people should make their own choices, and do and eat what they want, but I believe in this instance we abolish the euphemistic ‘Foie Gras’ in place of the realistic ‘Fat Liver’- a name I think we can all agree is much harder to swallow.