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California's foie-gras ban

(article, Culinate staff)

On July 1, the production and sale of foie gras will become illegal in California — at least until repeal efforts are considered. Foie-gras lovers are eating as much as they can in anticipation of the deadline, and everybody is musing about the ban itself.

In the July issue of Sunset magazine, food writer Daniel Duane describes attending a foie-gras dinner at which freshwater eel and Wagyu beef were also served. "I devoured every bite, but I also found my mind wandering toward still other questions of food ethics," he wrote. "Wagyu beef, after all, requires cattle bred for obesity and then fed in ways that trigger extreme overeating. Eel populations are crashing due to unsustainable fishing. I've taken pretty strong positions against all this stuff over the years, so why was I having so much trouble coming to a clear conclusion on foie?"

As we've noted before on Culinate, some activists see the foie-gras fight as a stepping stone to other food-industry reforms, while others think it's a distraction from the much bigger animal-rights abuses that occur every day on factory farms. In the New York Times, Jesse McKinley recently reiterated this argument, in a summary of the foie-gras ban and its impact on California:

bq. Indeed, opponents of the ban argue that factory farming — not foie gras, which has just two producers in the United States — is a much more serious issue in terms of public health and humane treatment of animals. That view was shared by Michael Pollan . . . “I think it’s really a way for people to feel like they’ve done something without doing anything,” he said. “There’s so many more serious problems we’re not dealing with.” 

Meanwhile, on the Times op-ed page, Lawrence Downes pointed out that cooks are trying to come up with foie-gras substitutes:

bq. One chef suggests soaking chicken livers overnight in milk with garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, searing them briefly, then puréeing them in a food processor with half their weight in soft butter. It’s your basic chicken-liver mousse, not foie gras but good. “You could mix almost anything with half its weight in butter and have a very nice spread,” said Mark Bittman, one of The Times’s experts on such things.

True, that.