Goose gitmo

[Caution: potentially disturbing photos follow the text]

Foie gras has emerged as a searing flashpoint in America where the Chicago city council has banned it and the California legislature has told the two resident producers to leave the state. Their logic is one of animal rights: cruelty to geese and ducks through force feeding that enlarges their livers to ten times the normal size.

I had abundant opportunity to sample foie gras while I was in the Dordogne region of France last month. But beyond simply eating it, I could see how it is made since it is one of the main agricultural products of the region. The characteristic low-slung, windowless barns that are the sites of the force feeding punctuate the rural landscape.

An American might suspect the barns to be underground bunkers or out of view as a refuge against rampaging hordes of activists from the animal rights group PETA. In fact, many producers hang signs to encourage visits, motivated in part by the high profit margin of selling directly to the consumer. I stopped by one producer who had a small sign in the window to his sales room: gavage 11:00 AM and 6:00PM.

Gavage is the process of force feeding the geese during the last month of their lives. I was intrigued that the producer would invite us into this goose gitmo. Did I have the stomach to see such a controversial practice in action? The rest of my family opted for a swim. I returned to the farm at 6 PM.

The geese were distributed in two large, open fields. The fluffy young ones were on one side. At about eight weeks old, they are moved to the other field for the final month before heading to the gavage barn. These were Toulouse geese, gray in color with darker plumage in the wings, a white undercarriage, and an orange bill and orange feet. The older ones already had a formidable waddle in the low-hanging bellies that almost touched the ground.

The several hundred geese in both areas had abundant food and water and could eat at will. They were outside and could roam freely. Their heads were bobbing up and down out of the water trough on the hot day. And they were loud. I hadn’t heard this much honking since I left Manhattan.

Two French couples (and a pet dog) had turned up as well and at about 6:20 the farmer arrived to lead us around. He was very open in describing the process and answering questions. One of the others in the group asked about American protests and the farmer said that he didn’t really care since none of his sales went to America. All of his sales were direct from of his shop adjacent to the large goose pastures.

Further, he said that French media coverage of American boycotts and bans devastating the industry was overblown since only four percent of French foie gras was exported to the US. Unlike cognac, which the French make for the rest of the world with 95 percent of production exported, the French tend to make foie gras for themselves, making 70 percent of the world’s production and eating 85 percent of it (Hungary helps fill the gap). According to a well-written story by Mike Steinberger in the Financial Times, the French National Assembly declared foie gras “a cultural and gastronomic patrimony protected in France” last October.

The farmer then picked a goose by the wings and we then moved into the gavage barn, which was mercifully empty and surprisingly dark. Although there were still geese on the farm, the farmer didn’t do gavage during July and August to take a vacation for himself and the staff.

After three months in the open, the geese are escorted to the gavage barn and put twelve per pen. He explained that they are gregarious and that’s why they are kept together. They are then force-fed four times a day with a machine operated by a person in the pen with the geese. The food is corn, starchy, empty calories good for fattening he said. This stands in contrast to the balanced diet that the geese received while they were outside.

The farmer said that the geese do not have the ability to swallow, which explains why their heads bobbed at the water trough outside: they filled their mouth and gravity took the water down. Nor do they have a gag reflex, which is apparently linked of the ability to swallow. No peristalsis, no reverse peristalsis. He said that conditions were worse for ducks (whose livers are also valued and he does not have) since they are smaller and have less of a group mentality they are force fed mechanically and kept in smaller pens with more per shed.

Whether or not having a feed tube shoved down the throat causes pain to the birds, the fact that they are kept in the dark for this last month of their lives, fed four times a day and rapidly put on weight cannot be pleasant. In the end they are slaughtered and a new group is brought in.

What’s interesting from a socio-economic point of view is that the nature of the French farm is changing. The farmer told us that a generation or two ago, a farmer would have a limited number of diverse livestock and would force-feed a goose in time for Christmas. But now there is increased specialization among farmers. He started only a decade ago. His neighbors around him grow only corn.

Back in America, what’s motivating the foie gras protesters and the legislators? Is foie gras production really any different than the inhumane conditions that exist for veal? Or other livestock from poultry to hogs to cattle? (As vividly shown in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation among other places) Will osso buco be coming into the sights of legislators?

Probably not. The trouble with arguments that suggest foie gras is the thin edge of the wedge is that it is just so thin–the amount of foie gras consumed in America is miniscule. And that’s a part of what appeals to activists and legislators alike: it’s easier to take on the three American producers of foie gras than it is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

But it is instructive—nay, essential—to know where food comes from. That’s why I signed up for the gavage tour. Meat, while it’s alive is a lot different from meat in a confit jar or under plastic wrap in the supermarket. If everyone were more aware, more people might choose to be vegetarians. Or not. After all, Michael Pollan still eats meat and Eric Schlosser still eats hamburgers. But it would be an informed choice.

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76 Responses to “Goose gitmo”

  1. thank you so much for this post–it was enlightening. fwiw, I am a foie gras eater, and whether or not I continue to eat foie gras (much to many people’s dismay), it’s good to know where my food comes from as you say.

  2. Great post and pictures. I’ve been to Gascony but never seen the gavage. I didn’t realize they use a machine…I guess I’m just old-fashioned (or perhaps idealistic.)
    Still, I think those geese live a better life than those cows in some American stockyards.
    J’adore le foie gras.

  3. You are completely right in your point about the “concerned” Americans taking on the foie gras industry because of its size in comparison to the beef, pork or poultry industries in the US (which all happen to be the inhumane ones). All one has to do to educate themselves on the meat industry in the US is watch the videos produced on Then we can talk about how animals are being ill treated. Or better yet, for those who have become vegetarians because of how ALL animals are treated, let’s talk about the vegetables that are harvested and packed by underpaid overworked illegal immigrants….how humane is that?

  4. i agree that picking the foie argument is an easy way out for finnicky eaters. the conditions for cattle at the large estate-like cattle pens in the midwest of the US are horrible. the feed they are more or less force-fed is worse than what it seems these geese are fattened with too. foie is fine by me. i have to say tho that i have yet to find a restaraunt that serves truely delicious foie. im in NYC. please let me know if anyone has a rec.

  5. Thanks, all, for your comments.

    There was another post about a CIA instructor who worked on a foie gras farm in the Dordogne that coincidentally went up on the same day. The blog is Megnut and the posting was by guest blogger Michael Ruhlman who posted a letter from Eve Felder. Link is here

    As to the last comment here, I’m sure all the top restaurants in NYC such as Alain Ducasse, Daniel, Jean-Georges, Le Bernadin, Per Se, etc would all have foie gras aplenty.

  6. Thanks for the report. Honest unbiased information is good. It’s interesting that you choose to mention Michael Pollan’s The Carnivore’s Dilemma as did I in my recent page on foie gras. There’s a much bigger ethical picture here, and as whistlingwench points out, it doesn’t stop by not eating animals.

    I can’t imagine where anonymous has tried foie gras in NY. Most of what I’ve had has been delicious, barring some quasi foie gras pate. Two of my favorite restaurants in NYC, Blue Hill and Daniel, have both come through with dependably delicious foie gras dishes. I’d also recommend Dr. Vino’s entire list and add the new l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon as well as the Modern. Although I’m not sure at which of those I’ve had foie gras, I trust those kitchens implicitly. I have also, though not recently, had excellent cold foie gras at Union Square Cafe and Payard.

  7. Great entry. I read it after I recently blogged about the current push in the US by animal rights activists to ban foie gras in various states:

  8. “i have to say tho that i have yet to find a restaraunt that serves truely delicious foie. im in NYC. please let me know if anyone has a rec.”

    I thought Veritas did it very well.

  9. Very interesting.

    I agree – show people how their food is produced. But let us make up our own minds. Animal rights groups are turning too fascist for me.

    Ideally, everyone would go out and kill their own animal with a bow and arrow, right?

    At the least, I think a lot more people being conscious would create a more empathetic industry.

  10. If they ever ban foie gras in my state, I’ll farm my own. Man has dominion over animals by virtue of his Reason. This reasoning power enabled Man to invent and perfect the ingenious gavage technique. This invention transforms a not-terribly-tasty bird into a delicacy: magnificent creamy texture and delicious flavor, complimenting other fresh farm foods such as sweet summer fruits.

  11. Many interesting points. We are a non-french professional couple (I am an aerospace engineer) living in the south of france. We have our own animals (hens, ducks, geese, guiunea fowl, etc) for won consumption. The children join in. We are big fans of foie gras and my wife has just started gavage for our own consumption (no factory methods here). I think the main point I would like to make is that here in France people not only enjoy good food and drink but also are very knowlegable about the background and get involved wherever they can.

  12. A very informative post…thank you. Why is it though, that people immediately have to start defending their consumption of foie gras? It seems everyone who commented does actually eat it, there were no anti-foie gras posts? And if that doesn’t show some inner guilt, they try defend it by passing the buck and saying that the meat industry in the US is worse. And WhistlingWench…bringing up the illegal immigrants, what does that have to do with anything, it’s a whole other problem, why not include the war in Iraq while you’re at it? C’mon…stop shifting the blame or passing the buck, take responsibility for your own actions. If you’re content with the fact that these animals have to suffer their entire lives, so you can enjoy 15 minutes of “magnificent creamy texture and delicious flavor(Thanks Molly)” then just state that in your comment. Because that is who you are, be proud of that!

  13. It’s interesting how people always like to attack animal rights groups when defending their meat eating habits.

    Why is that necessary?

    Eat what you think is right. Eat according to your own values… but be clear about what your values are. If eating foie gras is a reflection of who you are and what you believe, face up to it. Own it.

    There’s no need to attack animal rights groups or their “extreme” positions. Such attacks do not justify what you eat… or don’t eat.

  14. The practice of force feeding poultry has been done for thousands of years in Asia. The idea is to drastically increase a bird’s weight/fat content to ensure the meat to be a better culinary product. So I am not sure if it is really creuel in stuffing a goose/duck for a specialized consumer sector.

    I rather eat Foie gras than consume the hormone infused American beef and milk. At least the geese/ducks are fed with natural substance, not cancer causing agent.

  15. Andrew, your comment makes absolutely no sense. How do you get from stating that the practice of force feeding poultry has been done for thousands of years in Asia, to the point where you say you don’t think that it is cruel?? It bears no relation at all? And there is something called progression and we don’t necessarily need to continue the practices that have been going on for 1000’s of years.

    And then in terms of rather eating foie gras than “hormone infused” American beef and milk containing “cancer causing agents”…So you’re trading cancer for a heart attack?? Foie gras derives about 85 percent of its calories from fat, meaning that a 2-ounce serving contains 25 grams of fat and 85 milligrams of cholesterol. I really find it hard to believe that you go to a restaurant and think…”I’ll go for the healthy option tonight…maybe the foie gras?” And of course if you have to eat meat, there is organic meat and milk without the hormones.

    No offense, but maybe spend more time reading than writing…

  16. I assume farm fowl are like their pigeon cousins – hungry by nature, so wouldn’t the fat liver be achieved if the birds were just left to feed by themselves on this new fatty diet? or would it take excessively longer?

    That would eliminate the cruelty factor – if the process is afflictive towards the birds at all, that is. Maybe they don’t suffer an itch, how could we tell?


  17. Hi,

    As an Animal Biology Scientist, I would like to precise that in the wild, geese an ducks actually force-feed themselves before the migration. It’s a natural process so that they can endure migrating for days, only stopping at night to rest. Plus, as explained, they don’t have a gagging reflex and their esophagus is not very sensitive.

    Just try to mesure stress hormons in such a poultry and compare it to the same i a feedlot cow or a pig. Actually meat from pigs that are fed for butchery has to be treated because their level of stress hormone is so high that it would be poisonous to consume just lak that. And it is not the case with foie gras geese

  18. In response to “Charles”, who said, in part:

    “It’s interesting how people always like to attack animal rights groups when defending their meat eating habits.”

    On the contrary, it is the animal rights groups who attack me and my diet through legislation (and on-site terrorism).

    My disgust with animal rights groups comes directly from the fact that I am obligated to defend myself and my way of life else they legislate it out of existence.

    If the animal rights groups could get past trying to force their morality on me, we might then be able to discuss their concerns.

    Jeff in NYC

  19. First of all, I would like to address the attack on others posts that people seem to be a fan of doing. That’s nothing short of pathetic, focus on your opinion and the facts that you bring to the table.

    I am a big foie fan. I think it is delicious. I work in a restaurant in Boston where we serve it and it comes from a farm in Canada (the one shown on Anthony Bourdain- No Reservations, I can’t think of the name at the moment).

    I constantly get badgered for eating foie among certain indivduals. The same indivduals have problems because I’m not left wing enough with my politics and because I make fun of them for ordering meat well done in a fine dining restaurant. The same people go to McDonalds and order hamburgers, chicken, etc.

    The problem I have with animal rights activists is thus…
    -I do not stand outside of your places that you eat trying to force my opinion on you.
    -I research my food, I know where it comes from and make an educated choice on what I am eating. You choose to remain ignorant and biased.
    -In a recent studies, scientists have discussed that plants feel pain. How is this different from any other living organism? It’s not.

    I could go on…but I do have to cut this short so I can go to work.

    On another note, on the Whole Foods website, they don’t even spell foie gras correctly. How can they claim they have a scientific, unbiased opinion on something they cannot even spell (haha)?

    I don’t care what other people do or what they eat, so I don’t understand why people make a fuss over what I do. Just keep your extreme left wing comments to people who are open to and/or care to hear them. As previously stated, I do educate myself on what I consume.

    Get over yourself. I’m happy, content and a carnivore and I am not going to change any time soon.

    -Everything In Moderation and To Each His Own

  20. […] Goose Gitmo, I suppressed my gag reflex and visited a foie gras goose farm in France. […]

  21. Hey RAD,
    If you don’t care what other people eat, why do you make fun of people for ordering meat well done? Sounds like a case of food-snobbery.

  22. ehh. it’s gonna die anyway. might as well give said animal a tasty afterlife (It is quite tasty). i’m sure they will find some way to do it without shoving a tube down the animals throat (just feed it hormones, isn’t that what americans like). then i will get to stop walking through a collection of cardboard toting annoyances to purchase my foie gras.

    nobody cares about protests anymore. well.. i don’t at least.

  23. OK so, as someone of you say I’m becoming too fascist for i am an Animal Rights activist. But, let me say something, if, again, as someone of you say: “-In a recent studies, scientists have discussed that plants feel pain. How is this different from any other living organism? It’s not.” Oh la la! here it comes again!

    Please if you are about to say something like this, better prove it. To say it is proved is not to prove something. Plus even in case you were right you would be eating the suffering plants eaten by animals that then you make suffer. That’s double suffering if i know how additions works

    it’s amaizing how you guys take terms such as biased to criticize Animal Rights’ arguments, when by definition, you all are showing speciesist attitudes towards animals.

    And else: “Or better yet, for those who have become vegetarians because of how ALL animals are treated, let’s talk about the vegetables that are harvested and packed by underpaid overworked illegal immigrants….how humane is that?”

    you serious? because it is great to meet someone who is so upset about harvesters conditions. I imagine you won’t dress clothes made in Vietnam or Indonesia, or China. Or buy devices made over there, and of course won’t eat such vegetables, nor drink coffe or tea made in the third world and, of course also, you ride bikes because petrol leads poor people in petrol producing countries to starvation and war. Better go coherent with you day-life before teach ethics to others. I’m vegan, and i try to do my best to not consume things i do not really need. And yes, i’m human and sometimes I harm people (and animals) with my choices. But i am tryng to harm as few as i can. If you have a better idea i’ll listen it.

    So talking about humanism. We finally reach the core. Speciesism and speciesist.

    please have a look over this works, if you still want to talk about biased attitudes. They speak much better english than me:

    of course Animal Rights activism is plenty of non-biased arguments. It’s you guys who has to prove how could be to take animals, rape them, take their babies away their mothers once and again until death, and eat them whilst it does exist ways not to do so, and don’t get soaked by biased attitudes.

  24. Jose,

    You claim people are biased on this thread: what about you? For instance you have conveniently ignored the post of Faby, who reports some biological facts about these animals. There is also the letter of Eld Felder that Dr Vino mentioned, but you’re probably so sure that you’re “right” about everything you do that you did not bother checking. Pity.

    Why don’t you prove that force feeding is bad?

    In fact, I will spare you the time of doing so, because I doubt you can. Any “proof” requires assumptions, a reduction of the reality and whatever you’re going to say is going to be constrained by your humanism, your notion of good and bad, etc. and therefore be biased too.

    It’s people like you who, by putting them under constant attack, are forcing foie gras eaters to justify why they it. When, in fact, there is often no need for justification, for when you start going down this “ethical” route, as you experiment yourself, it is never possible to be fully consistent, especially when there is so little (if any) evidence of the negative impact. And your position is probably no better than any other.

    I eat foie gras because I like it and because, having visited a small traditional geese farm in France, I did not have the impression at all that the animal were suffering… indeed they were running towards the farmer when he was coming to feed them.

    I find it more useful to fight against the chicken industry than this small artisanal one. The end of the foie gras industry would have no impact on the wellbeing of chickens or beef. However, serious constraints related to animal wellbeing on either of the latter two will likely have a serious impact on all others.


  25. Well I’m not eating it.

  26. thank you so much for this post

  27. I have never eaten foie gras. It sounds good but may be to “buttery” for me. In any case, foie gras is just the cause du jour, soon to be forgotten. Such protests are by far to narrow spectrum. There are biological protection issues of far greater relevance. We are thinking, reasoning beings. Some thought should be put into this. Save the whales, prevent global warming, find ways to ease pollution in developing countries. Somehow the questionable “abuse” of an abundant domesticated species seems kind of weak.

  28. foie gras is a delicious nutritious food. geese queue up clamouring to be tube fed. they die overweight happy and useful.there are other vital issues for the chronically concerned and under occupied to fill their heads and days with.

  29. The key issue around this debate is on wether it is cruel to force feed the Geese. This has been clearly explained – the geese themselves would waddle AWAY from the feeder if they found the process unpleasant.Two people have commented on the actual reality of this, the geese actually choose to gather around the feeder for their moment of a good scoff ! Furthermore as Faby [Feb 2nd 2007] pointed out, it is tantamont to a natural process.

    SO, for goodness sake all you luvvies who are wringing your hands about supposed cruelty, get a life, wake up to nature, and stop being so darned pathetic. Try cutting yourself a good slice of the stuff [at rooom temperature]make some very thin toast, pour yourself a glass of a sweet wine, like Monbazillac, and slowly stick a dollop of the stuff on the toast,pop it in your mouth and slowly savour it, along with a few sips of the Monbazillac. Life will start to take on a whole new meaning of bliss !!

  30. Foie gras production is unquestionably cruel to the birds involved. It may less so on the kind of farms reported in the post above, but there are many others with far less enlightened practices. Just go to youTube and search ‘foie gras’ and ‘Quebec’ to see for yourselves. Comparing the fattening up of the livers by birds in their nataural environment for migration with force feeding and restraint is mischievous. They are not the same, the birds regulate feeding in the wild, but are not allowed to in foie gras production. In fact the livers in foie gras are essentially diseased organs, pushed into liver failiure by the over-fattening that they undergo. That means eating foie gras is eating a diseased waste-filtering organ.

    Finally, foie gras is actually likely extremely bad for your health, beyond just the fatty nature of it. A recent medical study (abstract below) shows that protein deposits in foie gras potently induce protein deposition diseases when fed to mice. Such protein deposits can cause autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and have other nasty effects (eg. blood vessel obstruction). The process by which this happens is analogous to prion diesases (‘mad cow’ disease family disorders). I work in medical research in disease areas related to such protein deposition diseases and there is NO WAY I would go near foie gras after seeing this study. The effects of these dieases can be painful, dibiliating, they are whole body and permanent.

    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jun 26;104(26):10998-1001. Epub 2007 Jun 19. Links
    Amyloidogenic potential of foie gras.Solomon A, Richey T, Murphy CL, Weiss DT, Wall JS, Westermark GT, Westermark P.
    *Human Immunology and Cancer Program, Department of Medicine, University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, Knoxville, TN 37920.

    The human cerebral and systemic amyloidoses and prion-associated spongiform encephalopathies are acquired or inherited protein folding disorders in which normally soluble proteins or peptides are converted into fibrillar aggregates. This is a nucleation-dependent process that can be initiated or accelerated by fibril seeds formed from homologous or heterologous amyloidogenic precursors that serve as an amyloid enhancing factor (AEF) and has pathogenic significance in that disease may be transmitted by oral ingestion or parenteral administration of these conformationally altered components. Except for infected brain tissue, specific dietary sources of AEF have not been identified. Here we report that commercially available duck- or goose-derived foie gras contains birefringent congophilic fibrillar material composed of serum amyloid A-related protein that acted as a potent AEF in a transgenic murine model of secondary (amyloid A protein) amyloidosis. When such mice were injected with or fed amyloid extracted from foie gras, the animals developed extensive systemic pathological deposits. These experimental data provide evidence that an amyloid-containing food product hastened the development of amyloid protein A amyloidosis in a susceptible population. On this basis, we posit that this and perhaps other forms of amyloidosis may be transmissible, akin to the infectious nature of prion-related illnesses

  31. Whilst I have much respect for the science that Darren asks us to consider, and am in no doubt that the mice in question responded as he purports, I am, rather as a lawyer or Judge would do, wanting to see the evidence that Fois gras is so bad for human beings, particularly in view of the fact that it has been eaten, albeit generally on special occasions, especially by the French for many many years. Is there any definitive evidence that they have been struck down with the problems that the mice incurred?
    If one compared Darrens concerns re Fois gras against the morbid obesity that the USA and many other societies indulging in fast food are dealing with I am inclined to choose a slice of fois gras before a Big Mac style meal. On balance, I suspect I will live a bit longer !

  32. inclined to agree with adam. further; while a mild addiction to foie gras is common, injecting is rare so far.
    i am beginning to be concerned at the work hours and untimely end of bacteria and yeasts that we employ to make yoghurt and wine and beer. perhaps we should campaign for a 35 hour week for them and a respectful funeral service.

  33. […] Vino  – Goose Gitmo (visit of a foie gras […]

  34. Jose you are stupid and dishonest.
    You request people to PROVE what they state; what about acting accordingly, and prove your own statements?
    Do you know PETA in French is only 2/3 of petasse, i.e. BIMBO?
    No normally educated French would dare to use this acronym…
    Only a French silly BLONDE (such as BARDOT!)would use it.

  35. […] gras için bazı çiftliklerde kazlar makineler yardımıyla zorla beslenirken bazı çiftliklerde ise hayvanların göç […]

  36. Well, I decided to read your post with an open mind. I REALLY wanted to see if I could, based on your words and images, change my mind about foie gras and its inherent cruelty.

    Sadly, no. One of the things that you say early on was enough to keep me steadfast in my beliefs. And that was: “Whether or not having a feed tube shoved down the throat causes pain to the birds, the fact that they are kept in the dark for this last month of their lives, fed four times a day and rapidly put on weight cannot be pleasant. In the end they are slaughtered and a new group is brought in.”

    And there it is: A sad, miserable, uncomfortable, scary way to end a life. To me, a bite of foie gras is just not worth it. Perhaps the geese are happy for some part of their lives, but to me, geese have always been so much more than food. A few months ago, I observed a gorgeous flock of them — a family — in a park in Boston. It was incredible to see how the mother protected her babies, while the father lead the pack.

    So when I see your pictures: The man with the blurred eyes, holding the goose down as he’s shoving the pipe down his throat, in a dark room in a wire pen, my heart breaks. Then I imagine someone doing that to me for a month, four times a day no less. It feels like a terrible nightmare. And no tasty morsel of foie gras can justify that image. And then I imagine the process of slaughter, and it makes me that much sadder. I’ve seen how geese are slaughtered, and a goose with a massively enlarged liver must be a special task to slaughter.

    Foie gras is not essential to our diet, in fact it can be detrimental. And while it may be a key business in France, that does not make it any more “right” or necessary.

    That’s what I think. Please note my tone: I am being totally non-confrontational. Meat eaters tend to instantly pounce on animal lovers who disagree on meat issues. I would ask the same kind of respectful tone I’ve given you, should you choose to respond.

  37. “I rather eat Foie gras than consume the hormone infused American beef and milk. At least the geese/ducks are fed with natural substance, not cancer causing agent.”

  38. As a student of agricultural sciences, I really LOVE how people accuse us of intentionally torturing animals. If the animals were tortured, they would produce less yield thereby killing profits. Does it happen? Yes. Its like spanking children, are we going to ban discipline because a few went too far? In large regulated facilities here and in EU, Animal welfare is regulated and is becomming a main part of practice and as the future of farming, we have to take ethics classes so that we can produce food ethically, that is sustainable and that can feed people. I respect all of your opinions but I hope that people do their research and try to avoid the media sensationalism that is destroying American agriculture.

  39. Thank you Danny and it is from qualified USDA officials like your future self that I chose not to trust. I like the fresh beef recall video that just came out. And as with torture (waterboarding) I guess we all have our opinions. Though I’m pretty sure you would not want me to shove 10 times the food you can handle down your throat to faten your liver.

  40. I hope we all agree, as Stacey infers [Dec 10th-9.21 3rd para] that Geese are intelligent animals. Can we assume therefore that they would also either avoid or vigourously defend themselves if they were about to re-encounter an experience so apparantly horrendous as being force fed. I suggest they would move as far away as possible or fight off the perpetrator of this ‘torture’ .

    So could someone explain why, as I have witnessed in the Perigord, and as Fabien[June 23 2.23] has also observed, they enthusiastically gather around for yet another opportunity to be so violated ? Dare we entertain the concept that they find the experience perhaps even quite OK, maybe even pretty good ? As we know, they aint daft.

    M’thinks the Geese,the whole flock of them, if they could talk, would tell us all to shut up so they can get on and guzzle such copious amounts of on-tap food. Just think, no need to go around pecking away finding the food- all they have to do is open their beeks and its poured in.. easy-peasy !

  41. Thank you Stacey; you summed up what I believe it all comes down to: treating other living creatures with respect and dignity. As humans, we treat other living beings with disdain, as if they were our enemies. We cage them, torture them, keep them imprisoned, chained up for their entire lives, put them in zoos to be gawked at and ridiculed, feature them in tv commercials to be laughed at, destroy their habitat, kill off entire species…all for our own petty entertainment. Sadly, foie gras is only an example of this litany of cruelty, since most other animal victims of our wrath, don’t fare too much better. The image of the geese in the park is an important one, because the debate all comes down to being able to recognize that animals are sentient beings just like us. Only a fool could believe that animals cherish their freedom less than us, or that they don’t mind being tortured, ridiculed, or having their habitat destroyed. Ghandi famously once said that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I could not agree with him more.

  42. Richard has raised a pertinant issue,[treating animals with dignity etc] and then, as I see it, tacked on another point [humans being entitled to eat animals or prepare them for our comsumption]

    Humans being disdainful to animals is an inadequate accusation. History and even life today shows that humans tend also to be disdainful of humans, especially if they are of a lesser economic, or intellectual or social level. So, animals arent the only victims of our disdain, sadly.
    Mankind evidently needs a major mind/heart change.

    On the issue of mankind being entitled to prepare animals for consumption, that depends if you believe God has given us dominion over animals and if it is OK to consume them. I believe we have been
    , but as has been indicated, with dignity and good care. I do not accept that feeding up geese is cruel, and the geese’s behaviour supports that.

  43. […] travel Goose gitmo, my visit to a foie gras farm Explore Perigord France travel tips Dr. Vino for minister of […]

  44. […] “Goose gitmo” [Dr. V] “Foie gras, arrest thy neighbor” [Dr. […]

  45. […] the Humane Society of the United States. I think its all a bunch of rubbish and as Tyler Colman has pointed out attacking the minuscule foie gras industry in the United States is the response to not having the […]

  46. […] the Humane Society of the United States. I think its all a bunch of rubbish and as Tyler Colman has pointed out attacking the minuscule foie gras industry in the United States is the response to not having the […]

  47. […] accounts by chefs, here and here, of behind the scenes at foie gras […]

  48. […] a post from 2006, Doctor Vino allows that, on the artisinal foie-gras farm he visited, Whether or not having a feed tube shoved down the […]

  49. …and yet who feels bad after forcing a ton of turkey carcass into our bodies during Thanksgiving or a trip to McD’s??? That is why we do the things we do. Thank Pepsi for this quote: “Wake up people!”

  50. The Adam of the July 3rd remark is not the same Adam of the March 2nd remark. The second is likely to be American, the earlier one is very much English !!

  51. I’d like to clarify some of the “facts” about bird biology being thrown about here.

    1) The variety of duck used in FG production is a cross between a pekin and a muscovy. Unlike geese, muscovies do not migrate, and Pekins only do so sometimes. It’s a little disingenous to talk about what these ducks do in the wild, because they don’t exist in the wild, and if they did, it’s doubtful they would do much migrating.

    2) Even when geese gorge themselves before migrating, they do not gorge themselves to anywhere near the extent forced upon them by gavage. In the former case, their livers may swell to 3 times their normal size; in the latter, up to 10 times their normal size.

    3) While the tube down the throat is an unpleasant sight, the force feeding itself is not the biggest concern. What is more concerning is the fact that the bird’s liver becomes so large that it actually smooshes other organs, including the lungs, as well as the fact that liver function becomes extremely impaired. Since the liver is responsible for, among many other things, filtering out metabolic wastes and other toxins, a failing liver means that these wastes continue to circulate, making the poor bird feel quite sick.

    Certainly, there are other animals who are being cruely treated in much larger numbers, but that doesn’t justify continued cruelty to ducks and geese for foie gras.

  52. I think it all comes down to selfishness. We can justify and rationalize anything if it tastes good enough.

    As for God – You really think shoving a feeding tube down a duck’s neck is what God meant when he gave us “dominion” over animals??? Seriously??? Isn’t the duck God created good enough for us without the force feeding? Are you really telling me that this treatment is our God given right?? I think using God to justify it is just wrong.

    I believe treating all animals with kindness and respect during their life is the best way to show thanks for them, even if we do eat them in the end.

  53. Interesting point Jenny !

    Your closing comment begs the definition of ‘Kindness and respect’. In view of the fact that all animals in a ‘Farm’ are living [for them] in an artificial and managed environment, does that mean it is unkind. If not, is feeding cows with grain in a shed kind, when they normally prefer to be grazing on grass outside especially when their guts are designed to eat grass, or keeping salmon or any farmed fish in water cages and fed an artificial diet kind when they normally would be swimming all over the place? Chickens being squashed in huge sheds with little fresh air or space to live and scratch around, cows kept in darkened barns as in Europe to ensure pale meat or geese being content [silly billies] to have another gorging from their captors.. the list goes on and strickly speaking they are all examples of ‘unkindness’.
    If the foie gras drum is to be beaten, there must surely be a consistency of revulsion and containment of all other unkind and disrespectable practises.

  54. stacy has neatly(perhaps unwittingly) referenced a reason for which foie is(gavage) singled out for particular criticism beyond other carnivore habits,namely fear of male oral rape(used to best effect in movie “alien”
    anthropomorphism rocks
    free the bees
    help the yeasts

  55. Adam – I agree that all those practices are unkind, and my closing comment was meant to include all the animals raised for food. This is just one example of a MUCH larger issue, unfortunately. I was actually researching food network’s “Iron Chef” on wikipedia, which led me to learn what foie gras really was. (funny how these things have fancy names, why not just call it what it is??) Anyway, just wanted to throw in my personal beliefs about animal treatment. I’m not going attempt to say where the line is between kind, respectable treatment and inhumane,(because I think an animal can be kept in less than ideal situations and still be humane), but I think it should always be taken into consideration. I got really upset when God was brought in as justification.

    I’d also like to say that my family raises cattle….which are currently out in pastures eating grass. 🙂 I didn’t know that cows are kept in barns to have light meat, good grief. Sometimes it would be so much easier to be kept in the dark about these sort of things (no pun intended). When did food go from survival to vanity??

    Last, I probably felt the need to post (I rarely do), because ironically a baby duck was sleeping on my lap as I read the blog. (We are raising the lone duck our hen hatched in the house, because something would have gotten him had he been left with the big ducks). He’s very tame, and I wouldn’t dream of treating him that way. And no, keeping a duck in the house isn’t natural, but I can guarantee he’s happy.

    I have much less of a problem with those that are doing it on their own, for their family. It’s when animal production gets industrialized that things go all wrong.

    I’m in Kansas fyi.

  56. Jenny, foie gras is called what it is. It means “fatty liver” in French, since the French are the main providers and consumers of it. They’re not really hiding anything. Sure, English speakers could call it fatty liver too, but that lacks the international flare, and aural appeal, of the French name. Much like Bearnaise sauce sounds much better than “buttery egg sauce with spices”.

    As far as the ethical debate… I think the notion of kindness is inappropriate when referring to the treatment of animals raised for food. I’d prefer they not suffer, but these are animals raised so that we can kill them and eat them. “Humane killers” sounds like an oxymoron.

    Animal activism has improved the care and treatment of animals. But at the extreme, animal activism envisions a world where no one will ever hurt an animal. Animal activists need to keep those that deal with animals in line, and everyone else needs to keep animal activists in line.

    If you take it to the extreme, either we have dog fighting or the police are knocking on my door because of reports that I used bug spray to kill the spiders in my basement. Either is absurd, but it’s up to each person to decide where to draw the line.

    If you think forced feeding is not humane, stop eating foie gras. If you think killing animals is not humane, stop eating animals. If you think spiders deserve to live, invite them into your house. Otherwise, keep eating what you eat, doing what you do. In either case, drop the legislation. I’ve never eaten foie gras, as it’s not something that really appeals to me, but I want the right to make my own decision on whether or not to buy it.

  57. To clarify a few points, non migratoy moullard ducks are ued in the foie gras industry, but ONLY in the US, they are no present in signifificant numbers in Europe.
    Second, ducks are not humans. Ducks and geese routinely swallow fish far larger and more irregular in shape than a gavage tube. They also swallow stones. Have you ever seen a hen house? Chickens, ducks and geese are kept in small, dark houses because that is what they like. They feel safe in a warm enclosed environment, they are in fact safe, from predators. Just because YOU would not like to spend your life enclosed in a shed being stuffed full of food, does not mean a goose or duck wouldn;t. Do NOT anthropomorphise animals, it is far more disrespectful than eating them, which is what humans evolved to do.
    Some foie gras producers are cruel to their animals, not all. there is NO inherent cruelty in foie gras production.

  58. hallelujah ! eureka! finally an articulate well informed apologist for one of earths most delicious foods. thank you LB whoever you are, and if you wish to taste the best foie gras on earth go to the Auberge de Combes near Lamalou les Bains in Herault France. I think they will ship also.
    Cheapest is the stalls at the Central market in Budapest. Bon appetit

  59. I still do not understand the vegetarian movement that seeks to switch all people who currently consume animal products, to become vegetarians themselves (hello PETA). I can only be thankful that here in the US, the colonists who first settled this country (and the natives they met here) did not have such outlandish ideas or they would’ve starved the first winter. Without a scientific discussion of the ridges that are present on the frontal teeth of all humans, and the anthropological traits they signify (tearing flesh, not grinding plants) I’m left to infer that these people actually believe that post 1900 humans should’ve “evolved” to no longer need to eat flesh? How preposterous!
    In my Darwinian model, I believe the PETA folks represent the latest in evolutionary trends in the homo sapien species, and will be proven to be an evolutionary “dead end”. In other words, these people are de-evolving. Left to themselves for several more generations, they should eventually return back to the trees (unlike their ancestors who left the trees to become hunter-gatherers) and disappear altogether.

  60. Welllllllllllll Bullet Doctor I think your idea of evolution owes more to Homer Simpson than Charles Darwin.
    An examination was recently made of the diets of parliamentarians in their canteen and it was found that their diet was appropriate and balanced- for Lumberjacks. There is a strong basis for the argument that high intellectual activity and longevity are best supported by a largely vegetarian diet.Furry plaque lined blood vessels first affect the brain eyes and sex organs.
    i do still love a slice of F G though.
    Another struggle of Homerian proportions (or portions) DOH !

  61. Mr PH RAGE. Please be calm ! You have made a fascinating if not controversial suggestion.

    In the UK the parliament has a fairly bizzare bunch of muddled worthies called MP’s but fortunately we also have something called the House of Lords, largely full of old buffers, who, thank goodness seem to exercise greater wisdom, gravity and balanced thinking than the johnnies in the other place.

    Since you suggest the diet of this combined group of worthies is so meat ridden it proves that the more you eat the wiser you become. Dismiss the veggies I say !!

  62. I’ve stopped eating foie gras. I refuse to encourage such a practice.

  63. then pass me your slice… old boy !! And pour me a glass of Monbazillac,,have one yourself too !

  64. […] of the pairings reaffirm the classics such as oysters with muscadet and sauternes with foie gras, so score one for […]

  65. From the article:
    “The food is corn, starchy, empty calories good for fattening he said. This stands in contrast to the balanced diet that the geese received while they were outside.”

    In other words: the shoving of corn down the throat (literally in this case) of yet another animal so humans can consume more junk calories a little higher on the food chain.

    For all of the comments mocking American meat in the comments above, any distinction seems trivial at best.

    If mankind is so content on becoming even more obese eating unnecessary, excessively calorie dense foods, why does he need to exploit other animals to get there? Let’s leave the poor ducks alone and get to work on converting our corn surpluses more directly to a foie gras flavored twinkie if this stuff is so desirable.

    While other forms of meat production may be worse in scope and perhaps even more worthy of continued criticism because of it, foie gras deserves its own status as an easy target for both criticism and legislation. Its egregiousness is hard to miss for the animal activist existing in more than just those who hold signs outside of restaurants.

  66. I think that foie gras production (duck foie gras or goose foie gras) is not more crual as veal or chicken production … so where are protesters for veal and chicken liberty ?

  67. For the one who said this method was alright for him: let’s insert a tube deep down your throat until your liver and see if that’s alright as well.

  68. “In a recent studies, scientists have discussed that plants feel pain. How is this different from any other living organism? It’s not.” – did someone really wrote that???? Jesus… What kind of study was that? Someone needs a biology lesson.
    First of all, plants do not have central nervous systems, so they cannot feel pain. They do not have the capacity to escape animals (including humans) who would eat them, so what would the purpose of being able to feel pain be? If you cannot tell the difference between a carrot and a cow or parsnips and a pig, really, go back to school.
    Second, the animals carnists like you consume have to eat something. YOU, little troll, are responsible for the deaths of far more plants than vegans are because it takes several pounds of plant food to produce a pound of animal food.
    Anyone who doesn’t see the difference between slicing open a tomato and slicing open a dog is extremely disturbed.

  69. Thank you for the article. I eat foie gras on occasion but i have know clue they shoved a tube down their throats. It is food for thought and i may stop eating foie gras.

  70. Hello
    What a lovely post.
    I would add a comment to your caution, in the beginning of the post : in France, these pictures don’t potentially disturbe ! We are used to see that, because we can see gooses growing in the Farm.
    Best Wishes from France !

  71. OK, i’m a vegan (no meat, no dairy), for many reasons and do not judge others for their choices. For those that wish to know where there food comes from, here is a link to a video and a petition about the production of this bizarre food. For those wishing to know where their food comes from I applaude your courage and intellect as most of it is it not pretty, healthy, fair, humane and certainly far from civilised.
    Try to forget about who is saving the battery hens, the whales and that man is superior so we can eat anything we want because we are smarter etc. I would think that only someone with a serious mental illness could watch all of this video and think to themselves ..”ÿeah, this is all cool, its just farming”. Maybe all these plants i have been eating have made ME crazy i dont know, but it just seems tremendously barbaric, cruel and unnessacary. Sure eat pate from a farmed bird but this force feeding is from 2500BC and now we are all so civilised that it seems truly wayward.
    anyway, heres the link….i could only watch up to 2 minutes where they suffocate the female chicks in a garbage bag. (civilised farming). Good luck with all of your lives, i trust that happiness and peace will prevail in this wondefully weird and strange existence that we call home.

  72. You can eat foie gras. But the following line of reasoning is completely flawed (see MOlly above): “If they ever ban foie gras in my state, I’ll farm my own. Man has dominion over animals by virtue of his Reason. This reasoning power enabled Man to invent and perfect the ingenious gavage technique. This invention transforms a not-terribly-tasty bird into a delicacy: magnificent creamy texture and delicious flavor, complimenting other fresh farm foods such as sweet summer fruits.”

    This justifies (a) killing of native populations, (b) Nazism and any totalitarian government, who has access to advanced technologies and exert their dominion of people and (c) killing and disposing of minorities. If mean has Reason, then an immediate consequence is understanding unnecessary pain and their ramifications, even if inflicted in a living being capable of a much smaller set of choices.. . If instead, you claim reason but only satisfy your gut feelings and instincts, than you cannot be a master of Reason. Some people can also claim that human meat is tasty, and use Reason to operate a gun and eat it… Is that Reasonable?

  73. […] “San Francisco Restaurant Claims It Can Serve Foie” -HuffPo My visit to a foie gras farm Permalink | Comments (0) | | American wine This entry was posted on Friday, July […]

  74. I’m not personally a foie gras fan myself but can see the allure, especially if you don’t know the food ended up on your plate. More interesting to me is where and who decides where the line is drawn as far as what is cruel and what is not.

    BTW-I don’t think any rational person would compare this to farming, like I do for tomatoes, apples, plums and lemons in my backyard.

  75. This forum seems to have interwoven two separate concerns:the principal one of eating an animal or parts of the animal that has been fed by a method that ‘seems’ cruel and the secondary one of factory farming.

    It has been explained perfectly clearly that gavage and general animal husbandry[see photos] as practised by artisans in small farms especially in France is not an experience that the ducks or geese find unpleasant so that sorts out the principal point, but gavage and also general animal welfare as practised in a factory situation as clearly shown in Richard’s clip[12 April 2012]is utterly horrendous. This sadly seems to apply to almost all forms of factory farming..the animal is nothing more or less than a cost or a unit of investment. Notwithstanding that a farm is also a business, it is also dealing with living beings, which surely should be cared for decently, in a comfortable manner akin to the animals natural environment. This is the issue that seems to disturb many of the anti FG commentators. The protest is more about simple animal cruelty and the animal is going to have a pretty good idea what it finds unpleasant. Let’s pay attention to that !

  76. Adam-That’s a well thought out and interesting point. I think the issue of factory farming is an interesting one, but there is one other main concern there:cost. For foie gras, of course we can’t be concerned since it is essentially a luxury item of sorts, but for just regular ground beef where do we draw the line between cost and animal safety?


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