The foie gras wars are heating up again.
A leading German food fair, the Anuga fair in Cologne, has bowed to pressure from animal rights groups and banned foie gras during the event. Germany is a major market for the liver delicacy, and the French are furious. The French trade minister has appealed to Germany’s ambassador to Paris, and the French minister has said that the dispute will have “global repercussions.”
Foie gras has become one of the cornerstones of French gastronomy. The ducks and geese are cooped up in pens and force fed through a tube. Their livers become enlarged, acquiring the silky and unctuous texture prized by gourmets worldwide.
This practice has stirred enormous controversy in recent years, notably in the United States. Foie gras is illegal in California, and was outlawed for a time in Chicago until the ban was recently overturned. Animal rights activists have demonstrated around the country, targeting restaurants that serve the fatty liver. Recently, over 1,000 signatures were collected on a petition against a Brooklyn restaurant that serves doughnuts stuffed with foie gras (where’s Homer Simpson when you need him?).
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one of the largest U.S. producers, has altered its production methods to avoid protests. They advertise that their ducks are cage-free, meaning that they are allowed to waddle around the farm in between force-feeding sessions. Artisan Foie Gras in Sonoma follows the same practice, and both companies include testimonials from veterinarians on their websites in an attempt to demonstrate that they are treating the animals humanely. Chefs are divided on the issue. Anthony Bourdain supports the serving and consumption of foie gras, whereas Charlie Trotter and Albert Roux are against it.
Morality aside, foie gras is profitable for restaurants. Wholesale prices hover around $40 per pound, and an appetizer portion (usually several ounces) will set you back $15 to $30 in an upscale eatery. If you’re a fan, there’s nothing else that approaches the rich and decadent taste of foie gras. It remains one of the world’s great indulgences. If you’re a duck or a goose, of course, you might feel differently.