Although this subject matter is a bit off the usual Pet Chat topics I felt compelled to write this column as I am continually surprised to see new restaurants in Santa Barbara popping up with foie gras on their menus.
Foie gras (pronounced “fwa gra”) is a gourmet delicacy made from the liver of a duck or goose who has been force fed. According to the Humane Society of the United States, the production involves purposefully inducing a state of disease by force feeding these animals until their livers are engorged up to 10 times their normal size. Enormous quantities of food are poured through a metal pipe that is inserted down the esophagus of these birds. According to animal welfare experts, this leads to enlargement of the animal’s liver and possible rupturing of the internal organs, infection, and a painful death. The process typically lasts up to four weeks, until the birds are slaughtered.
Although foie gras is mainly popular in French cuisine, its production is so cruel that it has been banned in 16 countries, including the U.K. Even though polls show that 80 percent of Americans believe the practice of force-feeding ducks and geese is cruel and should be banned, the dish still remains widely popular. In fact, here in Santa Barbara, new restaurants are opening all the time with this cruel delicacy listed on the menu. I questioned Santa Barbara’s “Restaurant Guy” John Dickson as to why he thinks the dish is so popular in Santa Barbara. He said: “Good question. I really don’t know. Usually a restaurant serves something that the public is willing to buy. So perhaps it still sells.”
Even celebrity chefs have taken a stance against foie gras. Wolfgang Puck, and Albert Roux are against it, and Roux has even argued that foie gras should come with a warning so that “people know what’s being done to the animals.” Chicago chef Charlie Trotter maintains that the production of foie gras is “too cruel to be served.”
I spoke with bird expert Joanne Alexander-Horne who exclaimed, “When I think about these birds, enslaved for years, in dark and small quarters, being fattened up for this so called delicacy, it breaks my heart. Birds are social beings and they stick together, to protect one another, how awful for each bird to see the other being dragged out and kneeled upon to keep the bird steady, so they can shove the tube down its throat and be over fed, so they can produce a fatty liver. If the public saw the atrocities that these birds must endure for the sake of a small mouthful of foie gras, I think that many would stop eating it. It’s like the old saying, if slaughterhouses had windows…”
Since 1997, the number of European countries producing foie gras has halved. Only five countries still produce it: Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France, and Hungary. In the United States, foie gras was banned in Chicago in 2006; breaches of the ban are punishable with fines of up to $500. Here in California, the California Health and Safety Code was enacted in 2004 and will become effective July 2012. The code will prohibit “force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size” as well as the sale of products that are a result of this process. The San Diego City Council unanimously passed a resolution that “commends the Animal Protection and Rescue League for raising awareness of the cruel practice of force-feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras, commends the many San Diego restaurants that have stopped selling it before the California statewide ban goes into effect, and encourages San Diegans to avoid supporting this extreme form of animal cruelty.”
Foie gras is still on menus because people are buying it. So it’s safe to assume that restaurants will stop selling it if the public stops ordering it. Alexander Horne said, “I leave when I see this on a menu, and I make sure that the restaurant knows why. I go to some very expensive restaurants, and I make sure that my voice is heard on behalf of those ducks or geese that cannot speak for themselves. It’s shameful and ridiculous.”
Share the Love Adoption Fair
Santa Barbara County Animal Services, in cooperation with BUNS, K9PALS, and ASAP is hosting an adoption event over Valentine’s Day weekend. The event will take place February 13-14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at all three of the county’s animal shelters. The public is invited, and organizers say the adoption could help county animal services work toward the goal of becoming a no-kill county. A $14 discount will be offered on adoptions during the event.
Santa Barbara Animal Services has the following locations:
5773 Overpass Rd., Santa Barbara
1501 W. Central, Lompoc
548 W. Foster Rd., Santa Maria
Adoptable Pet of the Week
Payasa is a soft-spoken, short-haired tuxedo kitty with soft, glossy fur, and green eyes. She is a bit timid at first but soon warms up and becomes very affectionate. She likes exploring high places, including sitting on your shoulder. Payasa gets along well with all people and cats and seems indifferent to dogs—a great fit for any home.
To learn more about Payasa, call the Santa Barbara Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) at 683-3368 or visit their website at asapcats.org. ASAP is located at the S.B. Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Rd. (just beyond the Humane Society). Regular business hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sundays.