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FOIE GRAS TO BE ILLEGAL IN SONOMA?


bourdain
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Robert Buxbaum,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding our Foie Gras. We received your

message and suggestions.  Currently, we do not carry this item in our

Catalog, Internet, or Stores. We base our inventory on demand and

seasonal only. Your opinions are valuable to us and have been forwarded

to the appropriate department for review. We appreciate your feedback

and will include your proposals in our considerations for future

marketing plans.

Better than I got, Bux. Below is the response I received (minus perfunctory bits).

Thank you for your comments regarding the removal of foie gras.

We appreciate the time you took to send your suggestions and I have

passed the information on to the appropriate department for further

review.

If we may be of any further assistance, please contact us.

Hard to tell if this is a completely generic form with "the removal of foie gras" placed in the {CUSTOMER WHINE} field, or if it actually got read.

My source for the PETA involvement was http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...BAGBD35L431.DTL

At PETA's urging, Williams-Sonoma, the upscale purveyor of cooking paraphernalia and foodstuffs, quit selling foie gras in catalogs in 2001...

Walt

Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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In other words: "No, we don't carry it.  And no, we're not going to tell you why."

More likely we're not going to tell you why because you won't like the answer.

Currently, we do not carry this item in our Catalog, Internet, or Stores. We base our inventory on demand and seasonal only.

I'm not exactly sure that second sentence is properly structured, but I take it to mean they are implying they might carry foie gras in another season, such as one where the demand is heavier. Which is most amusing as I suspect more foie gras is eaten, as well as presented as gifts, at this time of year than any other.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I guess everybody missed my point.  You can do all these things. I cannot do any of them unless I buy round trip tickets to NYC and overnight accommodations, which would truly break the bank. Which buying them at Internet prices with Fedex shipping would also do. 

And I hardly live in a backwater.

Until it is actually available in my area, I will find it hard to believe that "NYC availability" = "USA mainstream".

NYC is hardly the only place to get foie gras. This thread is about foie gras in California, but it can certainly be found in between the coasts. I will also maintain that foie gras is no one's lunch meat. It's celebratory food for most of us, but it can be found in the restaurants that mainstream America goes to for that special dinner.

The Maine Times offers a recipe for Foie Gras Mousse made from a fresh lobe. The recipes are from the Market Grill in Portland.

The Harraseeket Inn offers Butter Poached Maine Lobster, with Seared Moulard Foie Gras and Banyuls Steeped Figs as a “Luxury” dish.

Restaurant Bandol in Portland, Maine, offers Chilled terrine of La Belle Farms foie gras with fig jam and toasted brioche at a $8 supplement to their dinner menu. Lobster commands a supplement as well. It's worth noting that a google search on "foie gras Maine" brings up many web pages where Maine lobster is considered as great a delicacy as foie gras and as much a luxury food. Do you consider lobster main stream? I do, but also as a celebratory food for most people.

The Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor features Pan-seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with a cherry-potato tower, vanilla sauce and grilled onion bread.

At Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, Tourchon of Hudson River Valley foie gras with citrus aspic, citrus syrup, celery root and radish salad, pickled pearl onions and condiments will set you back $16.95, but that's less than Six Maine Belon oysters with mignoette and American sturgeon caviar, which run $22.95

Point well taken. Maine seems very much not a backwater.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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From Sunday's New York Times - One establishment doing it's part

A 41-story Georgian-style structure at Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, the Pierre has the anachronistic appeal of an old castle ... The hotel goes through an average of 15,000 pounds of freshly laundered linens a day, 40 pounds of foie gras a week, 30,000 stalks of flowers a month. A walk-in refrigerator is devoted solely to Champagne. By ERIKA KINETZ Published: November 30, 2003

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The Harraseeket Inn offers Butter Poached Maine Lobster, with Seared Moulard  Foie Gras and Banyuls Steeped Figs as a “Luxury” dish.

But have you heard how figs are being treated lately? It's apalling.

This is so wierd: are there people out there that will roast a goose but refuse fois gras because of the force feeding? What about the rest of the goose?

This topic still interests me.

Are geese that are not raised for fois gras consumption living better lives? Or ducks?

I can actually understand how a vegetarian can feel. My sister, and her two children are vegetarians. The girls have never eaten meat and my sister now for about 32 years. She simply doesn't believe in killing animals. Not just certain animals only, or only if it's done in a "certain" way, or only if they've lived a nice life in the wild first etc. She eats dairy because the cows and chicken don't have to be killed to get it. (and they still love me even tho' I'm a carnifore)

I don't understand the "let lobsters live" maniacs who still eat fish because...why? they don't scream when they're put in a pot of boiling water? How do we know that?

Why aren't more people boycotting "Jello" and "Kraft" for geletin and marshmallows made from YES STILL, horse hooves? Cause they can't give up those 'smores or Xmas Jello molds.

The folks at Williams Sonoma suck. Anyone tried Dean and DeLuca?

I'm still confused. How do we know truffles want to be dug up? Maybe they're suffering silently...

JANE

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I have some understanding for the dedicated vegetarian viewpoint, although I had little appreciation for the member who in another thread noted he only ate some meat for reasons pertaining to his health. What I don't appreciate is the focus on foie gras. I didn't find the PAW website offered a compelling argument. I found more of the same statements that offered up cruelty as if it were obvious, but conflicting reporters have found no cruelty, or more cruelty on chicken farms. If were more sympathetic to the vegetarian viewpoint, I think I would stop eating mammals before I worried about ducks and fish.

Janedujour, if I have to go, being steeped in Banyuls would not be the worst way and I simply reject any claim that lawnmowers are noisy so as to drown out the screams of the grass. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Here is a link to the actual petition that was filed with the Mayor of Sonoma Petition.

The claim is made that at Sonoma Foie Gras, "Some birds literally burst open from force-feeding, choke to death on their own vomit, or become so weak they are unable to fend off rats from eating them alive."

Now I have my doubts about that claim though the implication is that it is backed up by a news report. However, if it is true, then surely there is a problem on that farm which needs to be corrected. I love me some foie and confit, as many members here do. But if those allegations are correct, even if it is just a small percentage of the birds, I am troubled. Does anyone disagree?

Lobster.

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... Now I have my doubts about that claim though the implication is that it is backed up by a news report. However, if it is true, then surely there is a problem on that farm which needs to be corrected...

It is in the financial interests of the farm to make sure that each and every duck is well-cared for until slaughtered. Every duck that dies otherwise is cutting into their profit margin.

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It is certainly conceivable that a particular farm is poorly run and a problem, however, this doesn't mean that the rest of the industry is guilty of the same practices. Nor should the industry as a whole have to bear the negative consequences. Those should be limited to the farm(s) in question. Just because puppy mills exist, doesn't mean that legitimate breeders shouldn't be allowed to raise and sell puppies.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Good point, Doc. And the other point to be made is: even supposing it is somewhat commonplace for such things to happen in the production of foie gras (which I think is highly unlikely), would this necessarily be worse or even remotely comparable to what goes on in "chicken factories?" In my mind, the answer is an unequivocal "no," which makes the whole debate silly class-warfare. If these people are seriously concerned about making life more pleasant for food animals, they should be chaining themselves to the fence at Tyson, not outlawing foie gras. The earlier point that most serious foie protesters are actually pursuing an anti-meat-eating agenda is, I think, well made.

As for Gary's point about "inducing a pathological condition (such as a grossly distended liver) in a lesser creature" -- I am not sure this is a pathological condition. As has been pointed out a number of times, it is simply taking advantage of the natural tendency of certain ducks and geese. It doesn't strike me as any more "pathological" than breeding and raising turkeys to have grossly enlarged breasts or feeding grain to cows to increase fat content and marbling. There are plenty of things we do to domestic animals that might be labeled "pathological" by people when viewed through the lens of what is adaptive in the wild. But the fact is that these aren't wild animals. They are domesticated animals bred and raised in captivity for the express purpose of being slaughtered and eaten by human beings.

--

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Something that I did not realize was that Williams-Sonoma has stopped carrying foie gras in their catalog, due to pressure from animal rights groups. I thought this was cowardly and stupid, especially considering that they continue to carry numerous animal products, and told them so. If you would like to make a comment, their feedback page is  here.

Walt

My message to Williams-Sonoma at the link provided by Walt.

I've recently been informed, via a post on eGullet.com, that you've stopped

carrying foie gras in your catalog, due to pressure from animal rights

groups. I'd like to ask if this is true. If it's not, I'd like to make the

correction public. If it's true, I have no other choice than to boycott

your stores. I'll be happy to further explain and justify my position.

Their reply.

Robert Buxbaum,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding our Foie Gras. We received your

message and suggestions.  Currently, we do not carry this item in our

Catalog, Internet, or Stores. We base our inventory on demand and

seasonal only. Your opinions are valuable to us and have been forwarded

to the appropriate department for review. We appreciate your feedback

and will include your proposals in our considerations for future

marketing plans.

Regards,

Charles McCoy

Williams-Sonoma

Customer Service

I wrote a similiar letter to Williams Sonoma informing them I am boycotting their company because they buckled under due to pressure of animal-rights groups. Here is their response to me:

Carolyn Tillie,

Thank you for your inquiry.

Williams-Sonoma strives to offer quality merchandise and service to our customers. When it is brought to our attention that we have not met our customers' expectations, it is disheartening to us. We appreciate the time you took to share your experience with us. We will forward your concerns to the appropriate department.

If we may be of any further assistance, please contact us.

Regards,

Stephanie Sullivan

Williams-Sonoma

Customer Service

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With industry heavy hitters Traci Des Jardins and Charlie Trotter already having cravenly abandoned their peers--and the centuries old tradition they came up from--by loudly and sanctimoniously removing it from their menus, this could well be the first warning shot of the Final Struggle .

One of the most memorable fois gras dishes I had was at Jardiniere; what a shame for it to be banished.

Does anyone know of any other prominent restaurants which have followed suit? (so I can avoid them).

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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In case it is not clear, no ducks are raised for foie gras in the town or county of Sonoma -- the Sonoma Foie Gras farm is out in the valley, somewhere near Stockton (a little "marketing" that came back to bite them in the ass). So this is clearly a direct assault on Manrique and his partners and the store they've been trying to open in the town of Sonoma.

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I wrote a similiar letter to Williams Sonoma informing them I am boycotting their company because they buckled under due to pressure of animal-rights groups.

I fail to understand why you would boycott their other products. If it is a real belief of the company that the group has a reasonable argument, so be it. I could be more understanding of your boycott if you felt the decision was mercenary, based on a monetary consideration--but it has probably COST them profits-- why get angry at the company if this is a real belief of theirs?

Many department stores have stopped selling furs for years because of a true belief in the cruelty of it, thanks to the lobbying efforts of animal rights groups; They have actually sacrificed profits for principles. No reason not to shop there for other items!

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I wrote a similiar letter to Williams Sonoma informing them I am boycotting their company because they buckled under due to pressure of animal-rights groups.

Why get angry at the company if this is a real belief of theirs?

The assumption here, I think, is that this is not a real belief of W-S, but rather what they see as a pragmatic response to something that they fear might generate negative publicity for the company. This is substantially different from taking a moral stand on foue gras.

While we don't have any conclusive evidence as to the reasoning behind Williams-Sonoma's decision, I have to believe that they would have responded to our email inquiries to that effect had it been a moral issue for them. Therefore, I think we can reasonably assume that the company knuckled under to pressure from activist groups.

--

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Sonoma county is home to one of the major foie gras producers in America. My guess is that the company is a major contributor to the economy. My other guess is that this "proposal" is not one being made by the establishment and that it probably doesn't have great appeal.

The Sonoma Foie Gras duck farm in San Joaquin County has been the target of multiple break-ins and a lawsuit charging animal cruelty. Sonoma Foie Gras sued the animal activists first, seeking an end to the trespassing and a ruling that the duck farm is legally and properly operated.

This proposal to the Sonoma City council appears to be just another form of harassment, by a fringe element that is getting more sophisticated and therefore a greater threat. There are a few things that are being overlooked in this thread. One is the the objection is being made to "force feeding" or "gorging." Note that "force" is a far more effective term if one wants to prejudice those who know nothing about the process. I've spoken in defense of foie gras on my site when the site was more active and I've defended the production, sale and eating of foie gras here on eGullet a number of times. I've yet to read a really well thought out reply by anyone with any knowledge of the process that didn't eventually reveal a strong prejudice against eating meat under any circumstances. "Gorging" is something waterfowl do seasonally in the wild. What the farmer is doing is controlling that normal process, and perhaps taking it a bit further. I say perhaps and I will admit that in the wild, the ducks gorge for survival. Here they are getting ready to die. That's just what happens to any animal raised for food. There's little evidence that gorging itself is either harmful or unpleasant to the animals. In France, on small farms, the ducks and geese come running up to the force feeder like junkies. If they don't do so on a large factory farm, I'd not be surprised. Raising animals under factory conditions may be immoral, but it certainly doesn't lead to better tasting animals.

For that reason I have a problem when the issue is couched in the terms Robyn used:

I find an unfortunate degree of political correctness in high end restaurants these days.    You can't eat these kinds of fish (whether it's redfish or swordfish) - or those kinds of meats (e.g., veal).  Or chickens that haven't been allowed the same grazing area as a cow. And those who've never had the money to eat in high end restaurants (as evidenced by the message you got) - couldn't care less.

The issue of endagered species is not related to animal cruelty and I'm not sure gorging or force feeding is either. It's a mistake to lump this all in under the politically correct banner. Each is a separate issue to be judged on it's own terms. Smoking is yet another red herring in this debate.

OK - forget the endangered species of fish (unfortunate choice of fish). Try farm raised salmon. Or just forget about the fish and concentrate on veal.

I probably have a bit more familiarity with food production than your average city dweller. Just because I live in a state with a large amount of agriculture - I'm interested in the subject - and I've explored it on my own (even took a week long course at Cornell in the ag school which took us to a number of food production facilities).

Now I consume protein in the form of animal flesh perhaps more than most (a lot of diary doesn't agree with me). And I enjoy things like foie gras more than most people probably do. But you can't tell me that the production of foie gras isn't totally disgusting (to me - I don't know how the animals feel - and I tend to doubt that animals have "feelings" in our sense of the word). In fact - I had to give up reading the recent New York Times article on the subject because it made me queasy. Of course - foie gras isn't unique. The smells and byproducts from things like poultry, milk and pork production are hard to deal with - and - in some cases - highly toxic (witness all the fights about commercial pork production).

But the bottom line is we can devote less than 5% of our population to the production of food - and still produce more than enough food for everyone at very cheap prices - because our methods are very efficient. I can get all dewy eyed about "free range this" and "fresh out of the brook" that - but it's not the way you're going to feed most of the people most of the time. And I accept that.

But an increasing number of people don't - and think it's politically incorrect. They're the same people who think that animals have "feelings" - and "rights" which are similar to those enjoyed by people (don't believe me - look at "animal rights" courses in law schools). Now we do have animal cruelty laws - and I support those to the extent that they outlaw the *gratuitous* infliction of harm on an animal - i.e., harm without any rhyme or reason whatsoever - like putting a couple of bullets in the legs of a coon because you want to see it limp around. But that's about as far as I'll go. Robyn

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I think the argument can be made that the life of a duck or goose raised for foie is substantially better than the life of the average chicken raised for human consmuption. I know a number of people who have toured Hudson Valley or other such farms, and they unequivocally report that the ducks run over to the feeder and practically stand in line to be "force fed."

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"Gorging" is something waterfowl do seasonally in the wild. What the farmer is doing is controlling that normal process, and perhaps taking it a bit further. I say perhaps and I will admit that in the wild, the ducks gorge for survival.

While this is true, I don't think that it is defence of there growers position. The gorging that the geese/ducks under go is far above the levels that the wild birds would do. They have to fly after all and force fed geese are incredibly over-weight. That is taking the natural process much further then "a bit". Many commentators on food of the region state that the meat from the force fed birds is to fatty to roast etc, so this is why confit of these birds is so common. So by trying to sell a half truth, I thing that the growers have put themselves into a weak position.

Why the fuss over foie gras now in the US? It would seem to have similar motivations as the 'Fox hunting debate in the UK'.

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"Gorging" is something waterfowl do seasonally in the wild. What the farmer is doing is controlling that normal process, and perhaps taking it a bit further. I say perhaps and I will admit that in the wild, the ducks gorge for survival.

While this is true, I don't think that it is defence of there growers position. The gorging that the geese/ducks under go is far above the levels that the wild birds would do. They have to fly after all and force fed geese are incredibly over-weight. That is taking the natural process much further then "a bit". Many commentators on food of the region state that the meat from the force fed birds is to fatty to roast etc, so this is why confit of these birds is so common. So by trying to sell a half truth, I thing that the growers have put themselves into a weak position.

This takes me back to my earlier point that there are plenty of things we do with respect to food animals that are not exactly natural. In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing "natural" about raising animals in captivity and then slaughtering and eating them.

The tendency to gorge is, I think we all agree, natural for waterfowl. We take that natural tendency and push it to the limit for our purposes. We do a similar thing when we feed grain to cows. And how about what we do when we make capons? These exploitations of natural tendencies beyond what "nature" intended are not in and of themselves cruel or morally wrong. Thinking of my own field... there is nothing remotely "natural" about a man singing a full-voice high C that can fill a 4,000 seat hall. But certain people have a natural tendency to carry the voice up, and we exploit that natural tendency to an unnatural degree.

--

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Caponisation is an extention of a natural process? It involves surgery you know.

I'm afraid I don't by your "These exploitations of natural tendencies beyond what "nature" intended are not in and of themselves cruel or morally wrong.", as it is a hardly objective is it?

In raising squab, there is a theory that if you break their legs, you will get a better tasting meat. I'm guessing that you and most people would be agaist this process? Some people would argue the production of foie gras has gone that one step to far and the fact that it can be shown to be an explotation of a natural process is irrelevant.

If the foie gras producers were serious about trying to bring some objective evidence of the lack of cruelty in the process then they should invest in some research into stress levels etc. My guess would be that the birds were 'happy', but had some liver disfuction. In that case the FG producers should start making comparisons between there birds and factory farmed chickens for instance.

But, they can't do that can they?

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Some people would argue the production of foie gras has gone that one step to far and the fact that it can be shown to be an exploitation of a natural process is irrelevant.

I'm curious what you mean by "gone too far"? Having researched the production of foie gras, I do not see that its method of production has changed significantly in say, oh, 4,000 years! There are ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that depict the forcefeeding of geese and it looks just about the same when I visited the foie gras farm.

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Some people would argue the production of foie gras has gone that one step to far and the fact that it can be shown to be an exploitation of a natural process is irrelevant.

I'm curious what you mean by "gone too far"? Having researched the production of foie gras, I do not see that its method of production has changed significantly in say, oh, 4,000 years! There are ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that depict the forcefeeding of geese and it looks just about the same when I visited the foie gras farm.

No judgement of mine was intended. I don't think it is a big deal actually (in terms of animal welfare), I would rather concentrate on battery chickens.

But I'm curious, are you saying that because the Egyptians did it this way (they also did it to herons and a whole range of birds yes), then it must be OK? That would make slavery legit as well no?

Just as an aside. The Romans valued Goose liver and they fed up animals to make them fat. From what I have read there is no evidence that they force fed the geese though? The best livers were from birds fed on figs (hence the modern Italian "Fegato") and I have seen descriptions of the livers being plumped post-mortem, but is there any evidence of Roman force feeding for foie gras production?

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Caponisation is an extention of a natural process? It involves surgery you know.

Well, yes. But there is a "natural" consequence to that surgery.

I'm afraid I don't by your "These exploitations of natural tendencies beyond what "nature" intended are not in and of themselves cruel or morally wrong.", as it is a hardly objective is it?

In raising squab, there is a theory that if you break their legs, you will get a better tasting meat. I'm guessing that you and most people would be agaist this process? Some people would argue the production of foie gras has gone that one step to far and the fact that it can be shown to be an explotation of a natural process is irrelevant.

Right. I see your point here, but I hope we can agree that breaking an animals legs and helping an animal to gorge are quite different in terms of degree. But yes, the question is how far is too far. If the ducks had to be chased down and forcibly gorged, clearly against their will, I'd probably think it was going too far. However, quite the opposite seems to be the case.

If the foie gras producers were serious about trying to bring some objective evidence of the lack of cruelty in the process then they should invest in some research into stress levels etc. My guess would be that the birds were 'happy', but had some liver disfuction. In that case the FG producers should start making comparisons between their birds and factory farmed chickens for instance.

But, they can't do that can they?

That actually seems like a pretty good idea. Why do you think they can't do that?

--

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But I'm curious, are you saying that because the Egyptians did it this way (they also did it to herons and a whole range of birds yes), then it must be OK? That would make slavery legit as well no?

Just as an aside. The Romans valued Goose liver and they fed up animals to make them fat. From what I have read there is no evidence that they force fed the geese though? The best livers were from birds fed on figs (hence the modern Italian "Fegato") and I have seen descriptions of the livers being plumped post-mortem, but is there any evidence of Roman force feeding for foie gras production?

Ummmm.. that whole slavery thing is rather misleading and a whole other side point. But, did you know that receipts have been found showing that most of the workers on the Great Pyramids were PAID??? The Cecil B. DeMille version of ancient Egypt is not really accurate. Yes, there were slaves. But like our own modern version of slavery, it was not uncommon for leaders within a specific culture to enslave and sell their own kind into service. It does not diminish what it was, but is hardly germain to this discussion.

I was commenting about your quote of thinking that FG production has gone too far and I was only making the measured point that it really hasn't changed. If something hasn't changed, how could it have gone to a degree further than whence it began?

I am unaware of Roman production but will look into it.

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Let's make sure to stay on topic here and not get sidetracked into discussions of slavery, etc.

As for Adam's comment that "some people would argue the production of foie gras has gone that one step to far"... I think what he was saying is that some people think the methods inherrent in the production of foie gras, as well as the results obtained, go too far in "modifying" animals and exploiting natural tendencies in animals for our own purposes -- not that they have gone too far compared to what they have been historically. In context, this statement immediately followed Adam's example of breaking the legs of squab to make them more tender, which I think most of would agree "goes too far." Some people think that making foie gras "goes too far" in a similar way.

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