Impending foie gras ban inspires controversial dinners at LA restaurant

Slices of foie gras on a plate with garnish, close up

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Foie gras will disappear from California restaurants and stores in July 2012.

This weekend, Los Angeles restaurant Animal is hosting two decadent dinners in celebration of the soon-to-be banned foie gras, or, fattened duck liver. Foie gras has long been considered a delicacy in culinary circles, but is disdained in others because of the force-feeding necessary to create it.

As a result, California has passed a ban on the production and sale of foie gras which is set to take effect next summer.

SB 1520, which was signed in 2004, gave Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, the sole foie gras farm in California, a grace period of eight years to find alternative, more humane methods of production. The farm did not find any effective option and as a result will stop production in 2012.

Since its passage, the legislation has sparked an ongoing debate between animal rights activists and culinary enthusiasts.

Many chefs feel that the ban is a form of cooking censorship and infringes on their right to serve the classic, upscale dish. Foie gras and the force-feeding technique, called gavage, date back to ancient Egyptians. Today, France is the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, where it is recognized and protected as an important part of French cultural and gastronomic heritage.

In opposition to the ban and in celebration of the duck delicacy, the chefs at Animal, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, have collaborated with chef Ludo Lefebvre to serve an eight-course all-foie gras dinner. The event, happening Friday and Saturday night at Animal, will consist of six savory courses and two dessert courses.

The chefs could not be reached for comment.

Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) campaign director Jonathan Wadley says the event is in bad taste.

“It is unfortunate chefs are choosing to celebrate a form of cruelty that has been rejected by the public by wide margins,” he said.

Wadley cites a 2004 poll which found that 77 percent of Americans believe that the force-feeding of ducks for foie gras should be illegal. Ducks and sometimes geese undergo an intensive process where a tube is inserted in the esophagus of the bird through which large amounts of food are administered two to three times a day. The gavage lasts anywhere from 12 to 21 days and results in liver swollen to 10 times its normal size.

Wadley calls the method “inherently cruel,” as it makes the ducks subject to hemorrhaging, difficulty breathing and moving as well as a mortality rate that is up to 20 times higher than ducks who are not force-fed. He said his organization plans to be at the restaurant to educate the public on the inhumane treatment of foie gras ducks.

Wadley does not see the legislation as an attack on culinary heritage, but rather a progressive step for society. “There are all kinds of habits and traditions that become popular in different cultures and we move beyond them as our values evolve,” he said.

The foie gras dinners are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Animal.

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