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Foie Gras (Episode #544)

I am a great fan of your show, but I must admit that I was horrified by this episode. And I do hope that you will have the tolerance and greatness of mind to accept criticism and keep this comment published.

Except for a small hint mentioning force feeding, there was no mention whatsoever about the way foie gras is produced, and about the controversy. Buying processed food tends to make us forget that this has not grown on a tree or been produced in a laboratory. This was a living animal.
I am not a vegetarian myself, but I do believe that anyone who tastes THIS delicacy should absolutely be aware of the way it has been produced.

Geese or ducks are cruelly force-fed over a period of a month, a funnel and tube being thrust into the animals' throats, and huge quantities of food being forced down. The sheer procedure has been shown to injure the birds' esophagus, and up to four percent don't even survive this ordeal.

The liver will then grow up to ten times its natural size, which can only go along with inconceivable pain for the animal. The normal size of a person's liver is around 3.5 lb. Imagine having a liver of 35 pounds in your stomach!

During this time, the birds are kept in individual cages which basically restrict all movement, not to mention natural behavior like social interaction (these are social birds!) or swimming.

For good reasons, this procedure has been declared illegal in many countries. It would never comply with French law either if it didn't get an exception for being "protected cultural and gastronomical heritage".

I am sure that anyone who is aware of how this is produced will at least think twice about buying or eating this "delicacy". And I would ask you to PLEASE think twice before promoting this on your show without so much as mentioning the controversy.

Thanks.
Anna

Posted by
1023 posts

Here's the problem Anna. You either eat meat, or you don't. All meat production is inhumane, and everyone knows it (or ought to). But people don't care. Foie gras production is just one end of the spectrum. I have started splitting time between the US and a village in Bulgaria. This village still uses the old style of agriculture - free range everything. It is the most humane possible form of animal agriculture imaginable, and is probably the way less than half of a percent of animals are raised in world. But let me tell you the screams of the pigs as they are slaughtered and watch their friends get slaughtered are absolutely horrifying, yet what they go through is probably the best possible "experience" and animal can go through - a relatively normal life outside followed one day by a quick, fast slice to the neck. I can only imagine what an industrial slaughterhouse is like, with thousands of animals being processed and all of them after the first knowing what is happening.

Posted by
583 posts

Hi Kaeleku,

Thanks for your input.

I basically agree that any kind of killing is going to cause suffering. While not a vegetarian myself, I do however watch closely what kind of meat I buy -- not much in the first place, and only from free range animals.

However, I consider this a bit of a dangerous argument because it tends to relativize and make people think "Oh, whatever. There's nothing we can do anyway except turn vegetarian, so we might as well keep on doing whatever we feel like doing."

But there IS something anyone can do with ease, and no one has to turn vegetarian to do it. If you're going to eat meat, you DO have the option of choosing meat that has been produced with a minimum amount of cruelty. I am not going to go further into that, and I didn't mean to start a general discussion about the political correctness of eating meat.

The point I wanted to make here is specifically about foie gras, because this is produced with an absolute maximum of suffering. And IMO there's no excuse - tradition, taste, or whatever - to condone or support that.

Posted by
1101 posts

Anna, I agree with you. I do not or will not eat Foie Gras. For the same reason I don’t eat veal or lamb. I wish Rick had mentioned the process by which Foie Gras is made, but it’s his show.

Posted by
21544 posts

Anna, as a long time participant in the Rick Steves Forums, you likely know that posts here are read and written to by fellow travelers, listeners and watchers.

Rick Steves does not participate here - unless under a pseudonym - and I've never heard of that in very many years here.

Your appeals to him in your post will unfortunately never reach his ears.

If you want to get a message to the staff, and eventually perhaps to him, the way is with the Contact Us buttons. Staffers get messages sent that way.

Posted by
8890 posts

You might want to take such things into consideration when traveling. Belgium, Romania, Spain, France and Hungary are particularly significant no-nos (the only countries still producing foie gras in any significant quantity).

The more duck and goose friendly countries (where production is illegal, in whole or in part) are Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway and Poland,

I have been told, but I don't know if its true, that Hungary has the highest per capita consumption rate in Europe. That would explain why down duvets and down pillows are so common and relatively inexpensive in Hungary. If you were to find yourself in Hungary, one of the common local dishes is a foie gras terrine with sweet Tokaji wine jelly on it. Really very good. The locals also love roasted foie gras served cold in its own lard with onions. But thats too hard core for me.

You will find a lot of canned foie gras in the tourist markets, but I get the impression that its fairly low quality. To be sure you are getting the best, you need to go to a good restaurant or one of the many fresh markets.

Another food product you might take issue with is Caviar. Again, very popular in Hungary. I have always been a bit hesitant to purchase it. You see so much in the tourist markets, but there is no way of knowing how old it is. It appears that most of it comes from areas in the old Soviet Union and I suspect there isn't much conservation going on so I avoid it for that reason too. I do know one shop in town that has some very good Israeli farm raised Ossetra

Posted by
583 posts

Thanks for your comments and opinions!

@Nigel: Thanks for pointing that out. I was in fact aware of it.

I would however expect that someone from his staff keeps a bit of an eye on the forum, if only to keep illegal or unwanted content out. And I would expect them to be at least a little bit interested in direct reactions to the show. A critical comment like this one might give them food for thought at least.

However, it's also the listeners of his show who should be aware of this. And those are here in this forum. They would never hear of this if I used the contact form.

@James: No offense, but this is not about good or bad quality foie gras. I really don't care in the least if it is good or bad quality. The horrible suffering the animal has gone through is the same either way.

As far as the other countries - including my own - are concerned, I am afraid there is a bit of duplicity. We declare the production to be illegal, but it's not illegal to buy or sell the stuff.

Posted by
8890 posts

There is a gentleman in Spain that has received a lot of notariaty by fattening up the goose liver by natural methods, no force feeding. The geese and duck are even very close to the equivalent of "free range". B. H. Obama even paid him a visit. That could be a solution. Seems to me it might enhance the quality too. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Posted by
1023 posts

There was a This American Life podcast about that several years ago too.

Posted by
2 posts

Forgive me if I'm mistaken - but, right or wrong, didn't Rick show how the geese were force fed at a farm meant to produce fois gras in a past episode?