California chefs can’t stomach looming foie gras ban

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Duck Foie Gras Ban

The best excuse for cruelty seems to be the existence of more cruelty, especially in the animals-we’ve-deemed-worthy-of-being-our-food industry.

In 2004 California enacted a law that gave the foie gras industry 7 1/2 years to find an alternative way to produce the diseased and grossly enlarged liver of a duck or goose. The current method of force feeding the birds with a pipe shoved down their throats multiple times a day for several weeks before being killed caused a lot of discomfort among anyone with an ounce of compassion, not to mention the birds.

But while the birds are all set to celebrate the long-awaited end to one aspect of their institutionalized suffering, a group of California chefs are mounting a rebellion in the name of freedom to do unto other creatures what you wouldn’t want done to you.

Even California’s only producer, Guillermo Gonzalez with Sonoma Foie Gras, who supported the ban back in 2004, has joined a group representing all the country’s foie gras farmers petitioning the California government to repeal the law before it takes effect.

 The Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, a group which includes some of California’s most well-known chefs, like Thomas Keller and Gary Danko, are inviting the state’s lawmakers out to personal dinners in an attempt to sway their taste buds into repealing the ban.

Restaurants are throwing foie gras “wakes,” across the state. Mélisse in Santa Monica offered diners a “Foie for All” five-course menu so people unaffected by the cruelty they were supporting could indulge in what’s commonly described as duck-flavored butter.

This group of chefs wants the ban reversed and promises more humane standards for farm-raised animals. They are warning of the devastation that will be wrought on California when tourists decide to pass up the Golden State in favor of states who err on the side of more cruelty, rather than less.

John Burton, now chairman of the state Democratic Party, who introduced the original legislation in 2004, was reported by USA Today as saying “Right, California has wineries, Disneyland, but … ‘they don’t have foie gras — let’s go to South Dakota instead.'”

Burton has been called a “bully” by these chefs for dismissing their whining by offering to shove dry oatmeal down their throats “over and over.” The truth hurts, but not quite as much actually shoving food down someone’s throat. Maybe that’s why they don’t take him up on the offer.

And the world’s smallest violin continues playing just for the chefs. They can’t seem to understand why fatty duck liver has been singled out. Martha Rosenberg, on her Alternet blog, quoted Rick Tramonto of Tru restaurant as saying “Look how much veal this country goes through with all the Italian restaurants and the scallopinis [sic]. It’s killing those babies, right?”

As if one kind of cruelty excuses other forms. And foie gras is not the food California has targeted for its abusive means of production. The state’s landmark passage of Proposition 2 banned restrictive cages for veal, pigs and hens, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law last year forbidding the sale or possession of shark fins.

Famed chef Wolfgang Puck has publicly renounced foie gras, and retailers like Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Costco and Target no longer sell the product because the cruelty inherent in its production has become widely unacceptable.

This is how progress is made. We are not static. We have not reached the limit of human potential. Banning foie gras is just one more step in the constant struggle between staying safe where we are comfortable and challenging ourselves to be better. Let’s take the challenge, and keep questioning whether we can do better.

Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.