The Foie Gras Problem

Categories: Food Policy

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Photo by J.C. Reid
I love foie gras. Is that bad?

Foie gras is the fattened liver of a goose or duck. The fattening is brought about through the technique of gavage, or force-feeding the animal, in this case with corn. The resulting food product is a true delicacy which has a rich, meaty/salty flavor and the consistency of butter.

Some people say the production of foie gras is unethical and immoral. PETA and the Humane Society of United States, among others, contend that the production of foie gras involves cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. Additionally, there are allegations that workers in foie gras production facilities are mistreated.

As someone who loves to eat foie gras and is aware of the controversy, I have done my own due diligence about the ethical and moral issues surrounding foie gras. And I am more confused than ever.

Recently, Sarah DiGregorio of the Village Voice wrote a feature article investigating the allegations of cruelty against one of the most prominent foie gras producers, Hudson Valley Foie Gras in upstate New York.

In a reasoned and rational investigative piece, DiGregorio concluded that the production of foie gras, at least at this facility, was no worse, and in some cases better, than most industrial agriculture. She visited the facility herself and saw it with her own eyes. She made sure she would see the "real" conditions and not some staged area that presented the facility in the most positive light. She concluded that much of the propaganda from groups like PETA against foie gras production was alarmist and misleading.

Whew. That was good news for me and other foie gras lovers.

Then Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote an Op-Ed piece about foie gras, or more specifically, about the working conditions at the same facility, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. He also visited the facility and, amazingly, described a scene that was almost the exact opposite of what DiGregorio described: sick and listless ducks, abused and overworked farm workers.

So, how is a foie gras lover supposed to reconcile these opposing viewpoints? For now, I'll have to go with DiGregorio's opinion. Her piece was just too well-researched to disregard. I'll keep eating foie gras.

The final word about foie gras goes to culinary celebrity extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain. He also visited a foie gras facility and even made a video. He came to basically the same conclusion as DiGregorio. Which facility did he visit? You guessed it -- Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

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