Practical Issues > Factory Farm - Index > Chickens

August 27, 2005
REVIEW; The curious cook
Cruel delicacy's goose is cooked in the Big Apple
Julie Earle-Levine

IN New York, I can order almost any cuisine at any time and often it can be delivered to my apartment -- everything from wild mushroom risotto to delicate crab soup dumplings and filet mignon with asparagus. I especially like Mexican-style grilled corn on the cob, with chilli, melted cheese and lime, delivered for lunch from our local Cuban restaurant.

But it seems not everything is available in the restaurant capital of the world. In this city of the best $1.50 hot dogs imaginable, falafels worthy of a long queue, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Jamaican, the classic French delicacy of pate de foie gras is becoming something of an exception.

It's not that foie gras is hard to find; it's everywhere in New York and not the luxury item it was 15 years ago. However, eating foie gras is suddenly not quite PC: indeed, New York is embroiled in a bitter debate about the delicacy made from the fatty livers of force-fed geese and ducks.

New York is really only following California's lead. Last year, California passed legislation to ban the sale and production of foie gras, and similar bills have been introduced in New York, Oregon, Illinois and Massachusetts. Gourmets fear foie gras may eventually disappear from American kitchens altogether.

I decide to visit Le Perigord, a restaurant named after the region in France that is known for this delicacy, to test the waters on the issue. The restaurant's beef wellington -- filet mignon topped with foie gras, wrapped in pastry and served with sauce perigourdine (more foie gras and truffles) -- is a signature dish.

But recently there has been more interest in the restaurant's menu than owner Georges Briguet would like. Along with other restaurants, Le Perigord has caught the attention of activists who claim force-feeding ducks is cruel.

"They call me on the phone and ask if I serve foie gras, and then tell me they will stand outside my restaurant in protest to stop this," says Briguet. He hands me a glass of wine, takes an enormous gulp from his and continues. "I will never stop serving it unless the Government says I must."

I sample some house-made foie gras with jelly -- a cold, unhappy dish -- and wish I had chosen warm foie gras with black mission figs. The beef wellington does not disappoint. There are no protesters this night, but Briguet looks as if he may cry when asked about likely bans.

"No ingredient could replace it," he says."Ever."

Union Square Cafe also has been targeted by protesters, who hand out leaflets with grisly photos of bloody ducks.

The man credited with bringing foie gras to the US, Israeli-born Michael Ginor, is co-owner and president of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one of two big producers of foie gras in the US. A former bond trader, Ginor insists the process is not cruel and invites me to visit his farm, two hours' drive from Manhattan.

This is what I see. A woman holds a duck and puts a long metal pipe into its beak. She pours grain into a funnel at the top of the pipe: one cup, then another and another. I had been shown the pipe before the feeding, but it is disturbing to see it used. I wonder how many chefs have seen the force-feeding process.

The older ducks are very fat, panting and mostly sitting. Many have markings to show they can eat no more and will be slaughtered. Ducks start being fed at 12 weeks and are fed two to three times a day for 28 days. They are killed at 16 weeks. To many, killing any animal is cruel, but to me force-feeding takes it a step further. While this process is said to be less severe than that which occurs in mechanised factories in France, it still seems like prolonged agony.

Legislation that is likely to close Ginor's operation may be introduced as early as next year. In California, sales and production will be phased out by 2012. Fresh foie gras could well disappear from New York menus. Some will notice and start making treks to France, which produces 90per cent of the world's foie gras. But, having seen what I've seen, I'll be ordering something else.

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