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FOIE GRAS TO BE ILLEGAL IN SONOMA?


bourdain
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Let the PETA people protest against some of these gangsters and see how far they get. 

They just don't think ahead.  THEY are the ones with their heads up their butts!  That way they can't see the future problems that can come about because of this "ban."

Actually, I think they do think ahead -- or think they do. I think PETA and the other animal rightists actually believe that if they can get a foot in the door with legislation against foie gras production (which is relatively easy for them to portray as snotty, elitist rich folk being mean to those cute little ducks), it will pave the way for all kinds of legislation banning most kinds of food production involving any animals at all. Farfetched? Almost certainly, but I think their perspective is, shall we say, skewed?

That's just my opinion, but if I'm right it is also indicative of the cynicism and disingenuousness I see on their part. I mean, if they aren't choosing foie gras just because it's an easy target, why don't they concentrate their efforts directly against irresponsible feedlot practices and factory farming, both of which are often much more blatantly cruel than forcefeeding waterfowl, and certainly affect many, many more animals? Why pick on the little guy? Because they can.

Personally, I love foie gras, but can hardly ever afford it, so I won't actually 'miss' it that much. But I do object to what I perceive as bad and unnecessary legislature and a potentially horrible precedent, not to mention the destruction of a family's income, and an artisanal business that was obviously the result of passion.

Edit to correct an obsolete word. (I hate it when that happens!)

Edited by Squeat Mungry (log)
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Every Monday morning for over a year, I've been a guest on the local radio. For about a half hour I talk about farmers markets, local politics and offbeat music. I have never been late, never missed a show. This morning the host talked about the 15-person demonstration outside the French Laundry against foie gras, right after the news story. I was expecting to talk about how apples are in season and play a little Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys but instead I was defending the serving of foie gras, suggesting if this were a serious campaign, they should be attacking the pork and beef industries. But I couldn't make a point because the host told me (and the newsreader who admitted foie gras was "yummy") that we had out heads up our butts. On the air! She was actually yelling at me. I tried to make light of it and switch subjects but she wouldn't let it go, yelling louder until I would agree with her.

I thought about a line in a movie I had just heard and could adapt- "Your opinions are like treasures. Bury them!" but I restrained. I have a local business and no matter what side of the fence one is one, it wouldn't do me any good to get in a fight with my hostess.

Rather than get in a fight, I left in the middle of the broadcast. She has every right to hate the process of making foie gras but she crossed a line for me and she did it on the air. I guess my point is that this is a very emotional issue. I wish they had the same kind of guts to tackle the pork industry rather than a lone artisan producer of foie gras.

The funny thing is all this does is make me want to eat foie gras more!

Extremists of all persuasions (left-right-religious-weird issues-etc.) are impossible to deal with. There is only one way - and that is *their* way. So you did the best thing you could do under the circumstances - you left. Robyn

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I imagine there'll still be plenty of places that step up to producing it. China? South America?  There are a lot of countries out there (not that SA is a country, of course :smile:). I feel like some is produced in China, come to think of it, but it's been almost a year since I read that book (Serventi's Le Livre du Foie Gras). I also can't imagine big livestock states here banning the production and sale unless there's a national initiative.

This is an interesting idea... while I am sure they are quite settled and happy here in America, maybe we can persuade Junny and Guillermo Gonzalez of Sonoma Saveurs to RETURN to El Salvador (from whence they came) to continue production of their amazing product then IMPORT to us!

Personally, I love foie gras, but can hardly ever afford it, so I won't actually 'miss' it that much.

Squeat, this is where I'm sorry you don't get to the wine country often enough... My little trips to Sonoma Saveurs have become a bi-weekly event as they have made foie gras *reasonably* affordable AND addictive. I do believe I have eaten more foie gras in the past year than I have in my previous <ahem> 30-something-and-then-some years....

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That we'd have another 8 years to eat foie gras in California (before it becomes illegal) is not the important thing here - it's the precedent that you can legislate what foods people can and cannot eat. The people who support the ban also have revealed that because they think the way our meat and poultry supplies are produced is cruel , they don't eat them either. We shouldn't give them a precedent on which to call for laws that will close down our supply of meat next.

Remember too that there are also a lot of fanatics out there (referred to as the "fat police") who would be happy to endorse legislation banning foods that they believe have "hidden fats". Between the people watching out for the sources of our food, and the people watching out for "our best interests" - we could actually wind up with nothing to eat legally in America.

As Ariane Daguin said, "Forbidding restaurateurs in California to serve foie gras is the start of a very dangerous food dictature."

Edited by markk (log)

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That we'd have another 8 years to eat foie gras in California (before it becomes illegal) is not the important thing here - it's the precedent that you can legislate what foods people can and cannot eat.

True, but the precedent has already been set to some degree. You can't serve (or sell to consumers, I think) horse meat legally in California. Getting a raw-milk cheese under 60 days old requires knowing the people at a cheese store intimately, and even they get it from smuggling it in. Iranian caviar. Even foie gras from France at the moment (though that's likely not permanent).

There's already a list of banned foods.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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Well to celebrate the end of my radio career, I ordered foie gras as an appetizer and scallops in a foie gras reduction as a main course. I ate at Pilar downton Napa. (By the by, Melkor, you are NUTZ. This place is just great for dinner!)

My European friends who dined with us were very confused by the fuss re foie gras. I dreaded explaining it to them.

I had a friend email me this today:

I thought you'd enjoy this. Good friends (couple) stopped by last night to visit briefly. The topic about French Laundry picketing came up. Johnny (big construction guy who eats LOTS of foie gras) starts laughing and mentions we missed a bizarre conversation on KVON (your station); "that the commentator lost it and went off on her guest and he hadn't even said anything to deserve it cause she wouldn't let him say a damn thing without shouting at him to begin with." Bill mentioned we knew you and Johnny just says "I think it's great he just got up and walked off. I would not have wanted to put up with that either."

It shouldn't matter but I'm glad at least some people percieved the encounter the same way I did!

Gary Soup writes:

One has only to read through this whole thread to recognize that the foie-heads are the extremist, infantile and paranoid participants in a debate about what amounts to nothing, in the scale of things.

I know you love to be provacative, but I find the exact opposite. My gut feeling is still: if you don't like the practice, don't support it with your dollars. But all this controlling legislation and self-righteous animal rights stridency just makes me want to defend a position that I don't really even care that much about. Banning foie gras is chickenshit. It picks on one small artisan producer and hurts the "rich" so it's the "good fight". But the way we farm pork, fish, beef- these are areas that need real work. The fact that we have to zap the beef to make sure it's edible is a fight worth doing.

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Well to celebrate the end of my radio career, I ordered foie gras as an appetizer and scallops in a foie gras reduction as a main course. I ate at Pilar downton Napa. (By the by, Melkor, you are NUTZ. This place is just great for dinner!)

I didn't say it was bad for dinner, just that I'd choose lunch there and dinner somewhere like the Martini House instead.

I think this whole foie gras debate is missing the point, it's hard to argue that raising any animal in a pen, feeding it, and killing it is what that animal would choose for itself. Unfortunately for the animals, they not only taste good but they also keep us alive. Sure foie isn't a required part of anyones diet, but raising ducks to produce foie isn't any worse than the large scale chicken factories with cages stacked on top of eachother and dead birds being sent to the packing plant. I have every expectation that if this bill is signed, an alternate production method will be found before 2012 when the ban takes effect.

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To continue the irony, the September issue of Specialty Food has on its cover the Outstanding New Product of 2004 - D'Artagnan Medallion Duck Foie Gras with 2% Truffles. A beautiful photograph and a pretty darned good product, I'd like to add...

P.S. Gordo, glad you finally got to eat at Pilar's restaurant, although having her cook in your kitchen is pretty darned cool.

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Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 1520 today.

Was that a typo? There is an AB 1520 in front of him, a bill that started in the assembly. SB 1520 is the force-feeding one. Sheesh. Can't they put these things on separate numbering systems?

Status of AB 1520.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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Beginning in 2012

At least that will give Mr. Gonzales enough time to move his centeral valley Duck Farm ( Sonoma Foie Gras) to Nevada.

He will probably get a better tax break.

Yeah, but in 2012 restaurants in CA will have to stop serving it unless it's produced in a different way. I don't see why they couldn't just hook the ducks and geese up to a bacon IV - needn't look farther than the simpsons for a solution to the problem :biggrin:

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According to this interesting article in the Independent, Gonzalez has made a public statement of support for the bill:

But then the owners of California's only foie gras-producing duck farm came out with a statement reacting to the new legislation signed into law on Wednesday night, and the issue took on a whole new complexion. "We supported this bill and thank the governor and the legislature for their very serious consideration and deliberation," wrote Guillermo Gonzalez, the owner and operator of Sonoma Foie Gras.

Mr Gonzalez, an immigrant from El Salvador who has been producing foie gras for top restaurants in the San Francisco area since the mid-1980s, said he was "excited" to work with Mr Schwarzenegger's administration on working through the controversies and added: "We will go on with our business." Looking at the fine print of the bill, it was easy to see why Mr Gonzalez was pleased. The ban on force-feeding will not take effect until 2012, giving him almost eight years to negotiate with the state about practices on his free-range duck farm in California's dusty Central Valley.

The article goes on to say:

Even after that deadline, foie gras will continue to be sold in California and will be banned only if it can be shown to have been produced through cruel methods within the state itself. Until 2012, meanwhile, Sonoma Foie Gras will be immune from all lawsuits - two of which had been pending before the courts but will now be dropped.

Squeat

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The lack of information on foie gras de canard production (for much goes on behind closed doors) prodded me to see for myself in the summer of 2003. The following is a version of a post in the Media Forum which I thought current for placement here.

Encore un Foie?

I’m certainly no expert on the production of foie gras, and, as much as I love the stuff have become an infrequent eater of it, especially after it became so very ubiquitous, even in inexpert hands (it deserved much better), a decade or more ago. I regret that it lost its purity, became a plaything -- even a cynical hamburger fixing.

Whereas in France foie gras is a natural wintertime celebratory food (much is consumed between Christmas and New Year's), in North America it has become commodified, an item for Robb Report readers to add to their iconic lists like a vertical of Petrus, the lists that speak to excess cash flow seeking social validation. But not to sound a snot, for even if this class is bereft of good taste, let's assume that more than one of them knows what tastes good. Although some might say that these type of people only had kids so they could get pre-boarding, I have no opinion on the subject.

But not to confuse the issue: most people, especially those with more than a passing interest in food, eat foie gras beacuase it is delicious and because its unctuous texture is like no other.

Foie gras may soon join Chilean sea bass, swordfish and Caspian caviar amongst the verbotten for the Prius set, not for reason of endangerment, but rather for perceived cruelty. But what had struck me as I read the little available literature on the subject was the lack of firsthand information. Most people rendering their opinion, on either side of the issue, had not, it appeared, set foot anywhere near a foie gras production facility.

It's safe to say that the foie reared in Quebec is exemplary; indeed many Canadian and American chefs who have worked with the three main products (Sonoma, Hudson Valley and Quebéçois) believe it the best foie product on the continent. I had the opportunity to inspect two foie gras de canard farms in Quebec last summer and was even allowed entré into the inner sanctum--the gavage sheds--which, for reasons of disease control and increasing political sensitivity, are usually off limits.

The first farm, south of Montreal, was a fairly large scale commercial operation that is licensed to export product extra-provincially and into the US (and in fact supplies many eastern seaboard US restaurants). It was an unfettered production line with all stages of the process carried out in a carefully controlled environment. Diet, heat, humidity and light were fastidiously calibrated and constantly monitored by computer. It was also a scrupulously clean operation; the main fear being, because of the close quarters, a systemic outbreak of disease.

As the ducklings matured toward gavage, their pre-migratory instinct to gorge was seemingly tricked into action (no matter the time of year--I was there the day before St. Jean-Baptiste Day in late June) via the steady diminishment of light and heat (imitating shorter autumn days), and diet deprivation followed by a spate of abundant feed; deprivation; feed.

The gavage stage (heavily air-conditioned and humidified) was clinical but expertly managed (the speed of the technique is not learned overnight) from a mechanically-forced machine that follows the operator, although the ducks were held in restrictive individual pens within a shed the size of a small warehouse. The actual gavage took just a few seconds. The shed was cold and wet, and the ducks were certainly not running to be fed -- they couldn't budge. The pens were suspended above frequently flushed concrete floors; the shed smelled much as you might expect.

Although the ducks did not appear to protest the gavage, which, again, was both swift and expert, there is simply no way—short of inviting Dr. Doolittle to the party—to know. (A little like being at the dentist with wadding and a rubber dam in your mouth when he asks you the quality check question). But neither did we see any evidence of animals squealing or otherwise behaving in an obviously distressed manner.

Although I asked on more than one occasion, the precise (mainly corn) composition of diet for the ducks is closely guarded; it would be unfair to speculate what, if any, medications might or might not be added to their feed. But it was obvious even to an outsider that bacterial or viral disease could be commercially lethal to this type of closed facility.

What struck me most about this operation though, was the very large size of the finished liver. At over 600 grams, the liver distends below the animal’s ribcage and has an exterior appearance, prior to their trip to the abbatoir, not unlike a human hernia poking through skin. This is the portion of the liver most likely to be damaged or bruised, et voila--pate.

All of the parts of the duck carcass were packaged and sold, in large part to restaurants: the foie, trimmed breasts, legs en confit, pate, and the carcass for stock.

The second farm, located near Quebec City, was a somewhat different story. This smaller producer, which used smaller, old (and picturesque) wooden sheds and barns, also revealed a slightly different methodology. The ducklings (hatched off-site) were allowed free range in outdoor pens before being moved indoors to the manipulated environment. But even that seemed a little friendlier: at this stage the ducklings were still allowed to roam in quite large rooms.

The gavage was similar to the prior operation, but with an important difference: the feed was stopped when the livers were estimated to be at the 400 to 450 gram stage of growth for slaughter, and before any obvious distension had taken place. For regulatory reasons (and much like many of the province’s wonderful cheeses), their product is not available outside of Quebec, the only Canadian province where it is legal to produce foie gras de canard.

The chef with whom I was traveling, Jean-Luc Boulay, who operates a restaurant in Quebec City called Le Saint’Amour, visited this operation regularly, as much, I came to feel, for his interest in the welfare of the animals as for the quality of the finished (smaller) product that they gave up. He seemed convinced that the smaller livers were superior—less likely to be granular—and that the ducks knew no suffering. Boulay regularly serves several variations—typical might be a homemade terrine with Sauternes jelly and fig pulp; squab stuffed with fresh foie gras; or foie gras seared with fleur de sel, its pan deglazed with cranberries and mango chutney. One can also order a foie gras plat combining several of these.

Without for a minute wishing to prejudice anyone, having seen these two producers, I wouldn't eat from a foie over half a kilo. And because in a restaurant setting that’s nigh on impossible to verify, I choose to eat it no more. But that’s an entirely personal choice, albeit one I regretfully add to a growing list of other much-missed foods, especially that other luxe one, Caspian caviar.

In fact, the last foie gras I ate was in Quebec City, early last summer, from the hand of the master Boulay. It was generous and seared quickly in a hot iron pan, with a topknot of good salt and a fresh, barely warmed compote of rhubarb that put sweaters on my teeth. Those perfect combinant flavours, plush under their crust and tinctured with the rhubarb, melted away slowly, and then forever.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

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The lack of information on foie gras de canard production (for much goes on behind closed doors) prodded me to see for myself in the summer of 2003. The following is a version of a post in the Media Forum which I thought current for placement here.

Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Jamie. It and the inconclusive EU White Paper on foie gras production reinforce my philosophy of "when in doubt, do without."

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  • 4 weeks later...

The bill in question has been passed and signed by the governor. There's a parallel thread in the Food Media and News forum about the article in San Jose Mercury News. This is an issue about what's happening in California, the law only affects the legality of foie gras in Califonia and the the research is being done in California by a branch of the University of California, but the topic is of concern to those outside California. Californians are potential customers of foie gras priduced elsewhere and Sonoma Farms sells its products outside the state. I've seen it on shelves in NYC. Although we won't attempt to move posts already made here, let's continue the discussion on the news about what The University of California-Davis is doing, on the thread over in the Media forum with it's broader geographic spectrum.

UC Davis Working to Prove Foie Gras Isn't Cruel

Robert Buxbaum

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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.

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  • 3 months later...

is sonoma foie gras also defunct? say it ain't so, although i would certainly understand if the (stupid, supid) political pressure proved too much.

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Glad to be a Canadian!

Too darn cold to make it through the winter without a lobe or two... :wink:

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  • 2 weeks later...
Nice article, Carolyn.

Thanks.

What is rather sad was that a few were sentences edited out. When I interviewed Brian at In Defense of Animals, he started impugning Guillermo's personal life and character and telling me some incredibly malicious gossip. It was beyond repugnant and sexual in nature. I called Brian on it, indicating that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the issue that I was writing about; the closing of the restaurant and subsequent scientific studies. He simply continued repeating incredibly private and defamatory comments about Gonzales. I alluded to the degeneration of the interview in the article (not any of the specifics) but it was removed entirely. Consequently, I feel the article suffers a tad from the omission.

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[ 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.

Pate de foie gras is MY lunch meat! In NYC at Sau Voi Corporation on Lafayette (a Vietnamese store that sells bras & vietnamese music cds as well as awesome sandwiches) you can order a sandwich with ham and foie gras, cilantro, etc on delicious french bread all for less than $3-. next time you're in NYC check it out. Get there early at 11:45 or noon or you'll have to wait on line.

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From Carolyn's article:

As books like "Fast Food Nation" direct people into looking more closely at the industrial practices of our food sources, one cannot help but admire the likes of noted cookbook author Paula Wolfert who said, "I would rather be a foie gras duck than a Tyson chicken."

I dont get that quote. How a Tyson chicken is treated is completely irrelevant to the issue which is le gavage.

Animal rights groups have moved on from violent protests. PETA, for example, is pushing for kinder methods of chicken slaughter by making speeches at the annual board meetings of McD and Tyson. You got to stand back and appreciate their strategy. I would rather not say this, but setting aside my own personal feelings about the matter, I have to say that the pro foie gras camp is making a great mistake by ignoring the elegant and efficient manner of protests by animal rights groups. They have moved on from violence to using weapons provided by democracy and capitalism. They are making legislation work for them while the pro camp is merely protesting by making logically challenged arguments. Every one of those animal rights groups mentioned in the article opposes factory farming. They also feel the need to take a stand against le gavage. In light of that, Ms.Wolfert's quote is an unfortunate and irrelevant choice if one chooses to borrow her words for the pro-foie gras side.

As the Gonzales' farm is the only foie gras-producing facility in the state, it was not difficult to see that this ban was singularly directed towards him.

That is an interesting statement, I thought. Also, it is a curious fact that in America, even before the CA ban on le gavage, there were so few foie gras producers. Economics dictates that when there is a demand for the product, entrepreneurial fervour ought to rage over. I like to see this as a game and I find this conflict of interests educational and rather interesting. As far as I am concerned the only tragedy that has occured is the involvement of the government even though it does not directly interfere with the dining preferences of the individual and it is through the perfectly acceptable route of legislating an industry.

Edited by FaustianBargain (log)
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I dont get that quote. How a Tyson chicken is treated is completely irrelevant to the issue which is le gavage.

Hm. Funny. I said something similar recently. I haven't seen many people make that observation.

They have moved on from violence to using weapons provided by democracy and capitalism. They are making legislation work for them while the pro camp is merely protesting by making logically challenged arguments.

As a general rule, that's probably true, but I would argue that the press from the attacks on Sonoma Saveurs helped generate public support for the CA ban. I don't have any proof, but that was the impression I got. I would guess that Viva! USA (they helped draft the bill) saw an opportunity with the press and convinced John Burton to introduce it.

It's worth noting that the bill never went to the voting public; it _only_ went through the legislature. This is obviously not uncommon, but it's also different than putting the matter to the state's populace (which they did with the ban on horse meat).

As far as I am concerned the only tragedy that has occured is the involvement of the government even though it does not directly interfere with the dining preferences of the individual and it is through the perfectly acceptable route of legislating an industry.

I didn't understand this. How does it not interfere with the dining preferences of the individual? As of 2012, no one will be able to produce _or sell_ the products of a force-fed bird. So I couldn't get it in a restaurant if I wanted it and I couldn't buy it from my local butcher.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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