Food and drink 3 comments

The Foie Gras Controversy Is Not So Controversial


At least, it’s not as controversial as any other meat production.

Foie gras is one of my favorite foods to put on a holiday plate. It’s a traditional French New Years treat; it has a fascinating culinary history, a special place in my heart, and brings back fond memories from my life in Paris.

But many animal rights activists have cried out against foie gras – it’s even been outlawed in food-hubs like Los Angeles. It’s cruel to the animals, they say, and I understand the concern. But if I were to hold all my food to the the standards to which these activists are asking me to hold my goose liver, well I’d probably be a vegetarian.

The harsh reality is that most animals raised to be on my plate are not living in complete comfort. They’re frequently living a life quite different from their wild brothers and sisters. The hope is just that we’re not being unreasonable with our claim to top-of-the-food-chain domination.


We diners do the best we can; try to eat grass fed beef, sustainably farmed fish, free-range eggs, and demand humane butchering when possible.

Still, at the end of the day, not every great restaurant gets their lamb from Fruition Farms, and not every steak comes from a happy cow. Do you demand more ethical treatment for all the animals on your menu, or just the ones in the spotlight? Are you actually advocating for the geese here, or your own personal image as a socially responsible person?

I’m not trying to preach that we forgo any regulations on foie gras farms – goodness knows that we Americans have a nack for taking reasonable French ideas to the extremes when unregulated (I’m looking at you, “laisse faire”). But what I am saying is that a Chef should not be condemned for making a smart foie gras choice when it comes to his menu.


What’s a “smart” foie gras choice?

For example, if Chef Matty Selby of Corner House sources his foie gras from a farm where he tells me the geese look just as happy as chicken hens, where they walk up willingly to the food tubes asking to be fed — that sounds like a smart foie gras choice.

No Reservations recently visited a farm like this and even filmed it to share the experience:

Because at the end of the day, the only real way to avoid any animal cruelty is to become a vegetarian, and it’s a little hypocritical to condemn a smart foie gras choice while you’re eating that hamburger from goodness-knows-what-farm.

And you know what? I bet the cow would be pretty happy if you replaced him with some foie this year.

EDIT: To clarify, this piece is in no way suggesting that foie gras production is not cruel to animals, but is saying that it is just as cruel as any practice in which an animal must be killed. I am not trying to justify animal killing, but simply saying that if you already do (which you do, if you’re a meat-eater) that foie gras isn’t any more cruel than other meat production, especially when the diner is paying attention to its source. I am not trying to convert any of you vegetarians out there; I respect and envy your self-control. Here are some meatless foie gras alternatives, just for you.

What’s your take? Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments!


  1. Emily Grossman

    Thanks continuing the discussion Allison!

    I think you should definitely still be dubious – we all should be – one youtube video, one farm, one restaurant isn’t going to change an industry. But I do think that this doesn’t have to be so black and white as it is in Los Angeles. If there’s a way for us to find an “ethical” way to kill cows, then there’s got to be an “ethical” way to harvest goose liver. I think we’re not 100% of the way there yet, but we’re making progress – both with cows and geese. I hope this trend continues and we see more regulation than just outright “bans” — again, for all our meat products.

    I love that you made personal decisions to address your concerns with food production – that’s exactly what we should be doing. Asking questions, making sure we know where all our food is sourced from, and then making our own call as to what we put in our bodies. Our restaurants’ purveyors should be just as important to us as the chef.

    Personally, I don’t like the idea of anyone feeling guilty when they eat – eating should be just pure joy! – and so if avoiding certain foods gives you that relief, that’s certainly the way to go. I tend to do more research and satisfy myself on the trust I have with a purveyor. I have eaten lamb at Fruition that very well may have been the little lamb I played with earlier this year at Fruition Farms. It’s a hard thing to come to terms with, but my conscious is satisfied knowing that that lamb had a happy life and that it was a life taken respectfully by the very chefs that also prepared my meal. When I see that a Chef like Matt Selby actually took the time to visit his foie gras purveyor and make sure it was up to his standards, well, that’s my comfort right there.

    That said, as you mention, “in the end it really just comes down to what you’re [personally] comfortable with.” And everyone is different. Most certainly agreed :)

  2. it’s a difficult topic and you’re right, as a meat eater it’s very difficult to always eat ethically produced products. personally, i am anti- foie gras and have never even tried it due to the controversy, however i’ve never heard of ‘smart foie gras’ either. i am still a bit dubious but glad that people are working to address the issue.

    i gave up pork 17 years ago and though i also gave up beef for five years, my love of burgers won in the end. i also eat poultry and lamb- the lamb is a tough one, i rarely eat it but when i do i definitely feel guilt! it’s a tough road but overall, giving up meat altogether isn’t a good option for me as i just feel better when i eat it a few times a week. i feel the best i can do is stick with my no pork policy and try to buy products from ethical farms whenever possible. in the end it really just comes down to what you’re comfortable with.

  3. I think that is is very cruel to eat foie gras. The truth is that you can live without it, but the goose cannot live without its liver. I think that it is very selfish of you to know about the horrors of goose liver and continue to eat it. And, in fact, you are being quite “UNREASONABLE with your claim to top-of-the-food-chain domination.” If an animal killed a human and ate the liver it would be seen as barbaric. However, if humans do the EXACT SAME THING, then it is considered okay. This hypocrisy is unacceptable and cannot be justified. Please think twice before you slurp down liver and just think about how disgusting that truly is.

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