Some say that it’s equal parts silky, rich and delicately divine. Foie gras - otherwise known as fattened goose or duck liver - may be a gourmand's secret melt-in-your-mouth delight, but animal sympathizers are vehemently opposed to the way in which it is produced. The act of force-feeding birds corn boiled in fat – which inflicts undue stress and physical harm upon them -- was practiced as far back as ancient Egyptian times so that the resulting enlarged livers could be transformed into a pâté. The edible luxury soon developed legions of fans throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, where it took particular hold in France (today's main producer behind Hungary and Bulgaria).
For the uninitiated, the "gavage" process entails force-feeding birds up to four times daily with a long metal tube that runs straight into the esophagus for a total of approximately 15+ days prior to slaughter. While some claim that geese and ducks are treated humanely during gavage, European animal rights groups say that they’ve seen first hand evidence of birds suffering from the effects of having holes inadvertently punched along their necks during the process. Studies have determined that this type of force feeding can generally accelerate mortality rates among birds since esophagus walls become inflamed and scarred. Other issues such as difficulty breathing due to abdomen expansion, impaired liver function and swollen livers many times their normal size reportedly also occur.
For these very reasons, the production of foie gras has been banned in Britain for the past several years now -- plus Israel, Poland, Germany, Norway, California and Chicago have also jumped on the bandwagon -- but it is still considered a popular luxury food item that people will pay a premium for. Many chefs continue to use the real deal, but the growing consensus is that gourmet foods shouldn't come at such a severe cost to the welfare of animals.
Sir Roger Moore has parlayed his silver screen fame on behalf of ducks and geese in recent years, referring to the gavage process as a “horrendous routine cruelty” that should not be overlooked “for self-gratification.” As PETA’s UK-based anti-foie gras spokesperson, his campaigning has recently yielded two notable victories – high end British department store chain Selfridges and equally upper-crust retailer Harvey Nichols have both agreed to no longer stock the product. Moore’s next target: Fortnum & Mason.
In addition to the James Bond icon's efforts, a relatively new and purportedly humane alternative called faux gras is now being manufactured by noted British food purveyor, Waitrose. Darker in appearance than its original counterpart, the gavage-free product - made from 50% free range poultry liver mixed with duck and/or goose fat - creates a new purpose for the bird livers which were traditionally viewed as byproducts with little practical use.
If you're wondering which type of bird has a better life - one used for foie gras or "faux gras" - consider these facts from the British Poultry Council. Foie gras birds live in pens and are force fed as soon as they reach 12 weeks of age. By the time they turn 112-140 days old, they are slaughtered - at which time their livers generally reach a weight of 300 - 400 grams (10 ½ - 14 ounces). In contrast, "faux gras" ducks have partial access to the outdoors but are slaughtered at just 49 days when their livers weigh 62 grams (approximately 2.19 ounces). Hmmm...somehow Moore's foie gras observation seems entirely appropriate here, regardless of whether it's of the foie or faux variety -- “Once you know how it is made, it really doesn’t taste so good.”
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