In the last decade, foie gras, more honestly known as fattened waterfowl liver, has become one of the most controversial yet popular ingredients in restaurant menu items across the country. This fattened duck or goose liver is commonly served pan seared, and it is often used as a spread for breads. It can be found being served in restaurants all across Philadelphia, including on the menus of seven different Starr restaurants in more than eight different menu items.
What makes this ingredient so controversial is how the liver fattening process is conducted. The Hudson Valley Foie Gras Farm located in Ferndale, NY is one of the only producers of the product in the United States. As shown by the farm in a documentary with the Zagat Survey, when foie gras is harvested, it is ten times the size of a normal duck or goose liver. This is because the birds are raised from being ducklings, and at 12-13 weeks old begin to be force-fed their meals. The birds receive four pounds of grain, corn mush and fat by having a metal tube shoved down their throats and into their stomachs three times a day. They are fed until their liver gets so big that it pushes into their other organs, including their ribcage and their lungs, which make it hard for them to breathe. Regardless of the manufacturing process, chefs will continue to include this novelty ingredient in dishes until a judge can be convinced that the process of force-feeding an animal is inhumane.
“We do receive some customer complaints to this day about the foie gras on the menu,” said Starr Restaurant sous chef Kenjiro Omori. “I remember when it was a popular issue in California, it seemed like it was almost hip to complain about it.”
Omori is referring to the state of California passing a law issuing a ban on foie gras in 2004. The ban wasn’t enforced until 2012, and ended up being overturned in 2015, but there is a plan in place to appeal the lift on the ban in the near future. The city of Chicago also banned foie gras from being served in April 2006, but the ban was lifted in May 2008. The publicity coming from the controversy of this product has only drawn more attention to its name when it appears on any restaurant menu.
“People get the dishes with the foie gras in it all the time simply because it is a part of it. It almost makes those dishes special, but that doesn’t mean that those dishes are only popular because of that one ingredient,” Omori added.
The cruelty shown toward the waterfowl during this process has not gone unnoticed by animal protection rights companies. The Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection group was very vocal in supporting the ban of foie gras in Chicago, as well as in California.
“It is unspeakable animal cruelty and it should be illegal,” according to Vice President of Farm Animal Protection for HSUS Paul Shapiro. “It is simply out of step with mainstream American values.”
The HSUS was very frustrated after the bans on foie gras were lifted in both Chicago and California.
“I have debated the components of this issue many times, we’ve run ad campaigns, and even tried suing the largest foie gras manufacturer in the country,” Shapiro added.
Despite the arguments in favor of and opposing the production of the ingredient, dishes including foie gras will continue to be sold at Starr restaurants in all states. The average price of a Starr restaurant dish that uses foie gras (in Philadelphia) is roughly 28 dollars. Stephen Starr will profit off the item, regardless of anyone’s point of view.
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