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Is foie gras cruel? My friend Lois did a stage at a foie gras farm in Perigourd. (Her report was echoed recently by a near-identical reminiscence from Mille Fleurs restaurateur Bertrand Hug, about his grandparents’ foie gras farm.) Lois said that the geese, far from hating gavage, would crowd noisily around Mamère (Grandma) at feeding time, each trying to be first up into her lap. And geese, God knows, are not cuddly critters. But the real Mother Goose feeds her young by shoving her beak down their little throats and vomiting half-digested food straight down their gullets — mighty like gavage. So to her fowls, Mamère was Maman Oie, and gavage recreated babyhood comfort food. Veterinarians consistently refuse to condemn foie gras because it turns out to be natural in other respects as well: migratory waterfowl (wild geese and ducks) semiannually stuff themselves into fat-livered little blimps just before flying south for winter or north for summer.

Depending on the specific conditions of the farm, foie gras fowl are not mistreated, except that we eventually eat them; most enjoy far better lives than normal factory-raised chickens and mammals and egg-laying hens. (It’s the workers on large foie gras farms who may suffer — gavage-fed poultry relate to just one person to feed them — their personal Mother Goose — which puts their human feeders on a relentless round-the-clock schedule.)

PETA’s focus on foie gras is not because the feeding method is actually “inhumane” but because of the easy target it presents. Not only does the feeding-tube look ugly and scary to humans (because we have a gag reflex and the birds don’t) but — obese geese? Yuck! Nobody likes a fatty — so PETA has succeeded in turning foie gras into forbidden food by playing on societal prejudices about body shapes. It has little to do with natural reality, much less the fowls’ own viewpoint, which they express with their behavior both in the wild and on the farm. Me? I’m eating foie gras as long as I can get it, preferring science and sensuality over Disneyesque sentimentality and vegan-evangelist puritanism. I’m so evil, I eat Bambi and Thumper and even Donald and Daffy — so long as they’re humanely and organically raised.

Kitchen 1540

  • 4 stars
  • (Excellent)

L’Auberge Del Mar, 1540 Camino Del Mar, 858-793-6460, laubergedelmar.com/kitchen1540/.

HOURS: Three meals daily, including Sunday brunch; dinner 6:00–10:00 p.m.

PRICES: Hot starters and raw plates, $8–$18; cured meats and artisan cheeses, $6 each; entrées, $16–$32; sides, $7; desserts, $3–$8.

CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Clean, imaginative seasonal California “farm to plate” cuisine with local produce, sustainable seafood, natural meats, and house-cured charcuterie, utilizing both the latest and the most classic cooking techniques to bring out the flavors.

PICK HITS: Day-boat scallops with popcorn purée, wild nettle and ramp risotto with tempura-fried morels, corn agnolotti, Alaskan halibut with preserved Meyer lemon, beef tenderloin, Colorado lamb loin and braised leg, strawberry shortcake. Chef’s picks: scallops, Farm House Salad.

NEED TO KNOW: Resort-casual garb. Validated parking. Heated patio dining with tented cabanas for groups of six and up. Numerous lacto-vegetarian and several vegan appetizers, one veg entrée. Foie gras off-menu but available by request ($18).

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Comments

caseydcornell July 9, 2009 @ 10:39 a.m.

Naomi, I must say I have been reading your column for quite some time and each Wednesday night or Thursday morning I turn to my computer too see what new culinary adventure you have partaken in...and am always impressed. The range of establishments you visit is practical week to week and informative for the public- it's reviews like these where I feel as though I have enjoyed the mouth tantalizing explosion of foie gras without ever having the opportnity to venture there myself. (I happen to be a reader whose pocketbook could probably only afford a tour through Chef McCabe's palate via lottery ticket) Nonetheless, I appreciate your candid ability to write truthfully and tastefully with a keen sense of teaching your readers a little something extra whether it be a brief insert of the origin of a particular ingredient or a paragraph outlining the humane practices of geese. Thank you week to week for giving me something a little extra to look forward to on my monotonous lifestyle. I truly believe your talent in writing, conveying a tone, and setting the mood all contribute to your wide range of knowledge in the art of food.

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millerowski July 9, 2009 @ 12:17 p.m.

I was surprised to read that the price of the FOOD in this feast cost a mere $45 per person. Having avoided L'Auberge because I had concluded, after years of hearing snide comments about the food, the service, and the high prices (and partly because I never forgave whomever it was who tore down the old Del Mar Inn to build L'Auberge), I resisted the positive review and the idea that the food was--comparatively speaking--affordable. (Compared to WHAT? To other local 4 star restaurants.) My resistance was such that I doubted Ms. Wise's memory of the tab, or maybe her math skills. So I checked the on-line menu and tallied up the damage and damn! it came out (including dessert) to a tad less than $45 per person. Musta been that $16 burger. Or maybe using wild veggies (ramps, seaweed, and nettles, etc.) cuts costs in Chef McCabe's kitchen?

Thanks, Ms. Wise, for the definition of farro (it's not in the dictionary--yet) and for the "pick hits" list (maybe I can get someone to take me to L'Auberge for my birthday--right before Del Mar is invaded by the race season crowd.)

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kfgflynn July 11, 2009 @ 3:29 p.m.

To the "critic" who decided she had an informed decision about foie gras:

Regarding foie gras:

You are factually wrong when you claimed "Veterinarians consistently refuse to condemn foie gras..."

The AVMA's actual position on it, as cited on their website, is Quoted from the AVMA website:

This past April, the Executive Board forwarded the AWC's recommendation to the HOD as a resolution—Resolution 3—so that delegates could decide the issue that originated in their chamber. It states: "Resolved, that the AVMA opposes the practice of mechanical force feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras because of the adverse effects on the birds' health and welfare associated with this practice."

Regarding your accusations against PeTA, I researched their website. My ten minutes of research on their website revealed that they oppose because it is unnecessary, cruel, inhumane, unnatural, and promotes disease among the birds. They also oppose it because of the substandards living conditions under which many of these birds are kept. I also learned that none other than the pope himself apparently agrees with their "Disneyesque sentimentality".

I know you’re just a restaurant critic, and therefore not a real reporter. But since your work is published in a newspaper don’t you think you should make SOME attempt to fact-check before publishing?

Your agenda is far more transparent than the one you claim PeTA has. You like the way it tastes. But you lack either the conscience to see that is is wrong, and/or the will to follow through on that by not eating it. So you made a quite lame and failed attempt to use reason to justify your complicit involvement is the continuation of this unecessary prcatice.

Just as small children are kept away from sharp knives, so should you be kept away from attempts at using reason.

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Naomi Wise July 11, 2009 @ 5:59 p.m.

True, I didn't look up that particular veterinary professional group's website -- I just summed up the material from articles on the topic that appeared in the New York Times about 8 months ago. (I don't remember if they ran in the Science or the Food section.) Guess those guys at the Times aren't real reporters, either.

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sjacksmith July 13, 2009 @ 5:39 p.m.

I can see how one might want to justify the cruel practice of making foie gras by comparing it to the way a mother goose feeds her babies, “by shoving her beak down their little throats and vomiting half-digested food straight down their gullets,” but you must know a mother’s beak is not made of jagged metal, will not pierce their babies’ esophagus, and will not fill them with so much food their legs won’t be able to support their weight or leave them without enough strength fend off vermin. You may even be right that PeTA and other animal advocacy groups focus on the foie gras industry because it’s an easy target – it is easy for people to be appalled and outraged once they see how this most barbaric of foods is produced, since it is the most extreme form of animal cruelty. But it’s not so much the “scary” tube or the obesity of the ducks that bothers me - it’s the infections that develop after a goose’s anus ruptures and starts to bleed out because they have been force fed more than 30% of their body weight in a single day; it’s the bird that can’t turn its neck to snap away a rat that is nibbling on the dried blood stuck to the three remaining tail feathers; it’s the fact that these animals would die a horrible, painful death due to their grossly enlarged liver squeezing out all the other internal organs within days of this force feeding cycle ending if they were not sent to slaughter first; it’s the inhumane way the farm workers are treated, who are people – not “mother geese” – who work with little-to-no time off, in deplorable conditions, just so farms can turn the most profit.
The fact that you even had to include a whole section in your review about the making of foie gras shows that even you have doubts about this product. If you didn’t, you would not feel the urge to have to justify yourself for indulging in something so blatantly cruel. You would have been better off not saying anything at all – at least then you wouldn’t have chosen to ignore the real science behind this process. You instead tried to play this off like those of us against this extreme form of cruelty are deluded for not being able to sit idly by while animals, who suffer needlessly in factory farms anyway, are tortured beyond anything that is necessary or appropriate, all so the upper echelon can gluttonously bask in their supreme dominance of things smaller than themselves.

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ljfoodie July 13, 2009 @ 6:15 p.m.

Your idyllic description of foie gras production unfortunately bears no resemblance to modern foie gras production. Although restaurant industry insiders who are given tours of the Hudson Valley and Sonoma farms report humane conditions, individuals who take the liberty of showing themselves around the facilities report a vastly different reality. In these factory farming facilities, ducks are force-fed with a metal tube that often injures their esophagus. They frequently suffer organ rupture as a result of the force-feeding, leading a significant portion of them to die before slaughter. Your comparison of force-feeding to the weight gain of migratory birds is also flawed: duck and goose livers expand by two-fold in nature, but they expand by an astonishing ten-fold under foie gras production conditions. Veterinarians who have had the opportunity to examine fowl who have expired in foie gras facilities have observed that these creatures must have suffered enourmously with their fatty liver disease, esophagal injuries, and organ rupture.

It is dishonest and transparently manipulative for you to hold up highly-controverisal Peta as the sole organization opposing foie gras production. The Humane Society of the United States also actively opposes foie gras production, as does our own local Animal Protection and Rescue League. Furthermore, your attempts to attribute fat-phobia, asceticism, and puritanism to those who seek to reduce the suffering of animals in order to discredit them is rather laughable. I invite you to consider the distinct possibility that they are motived, quite simply, by compassion.

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Lawrenceofthedesert Oct. 20, 2009 @ 11:23 a.m.

The focus on foie gras needs to be on the careful regulation of production; otherwise this would be like outlawing eggs because some farmers raise hens in inhumane conditions. PETA (hardly a mainstream group, it's also against people owning pet dogs and cats and the eating of any meat) and other "pro-animal" organizations rightfully concerned about foie gras production should focus more carefully on where regulation would be effective while respecting the rights of others. No sane person is interested in supporting animal abuse, and charges to the contrary are specious. I think the grandstanding charge by Wise, who's obviously a careful and professional food writer, raises a valid question.

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SDaniels Oct. 20, 2009 @ 6:58 p.m.

"No sane person is interested in supporting animal abuse, and charges to the contrary are specious."

Lawrence, since most of the population is sane, yet cares not a whit for how their factory-farmed meats and dairy products are produced, in ways that are inhumanely cruel and environmentally unsound, I think we'd best conclude that we are dealing with a lack of both education and conscience, rather than an issue of mental health. Let's call willful apathy and ignorance for what they are, rather than distract from the accurate issues reported in #5 and 6. To foist a bad pun on a serious topic, the charges are not specious--rather, they are too species-specific, i.e., top of the food chain wins, and that's that?

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Fred Williams Oct. 20, 2009 @ 10:57 p.m.

I am OUTRAGED!

Yes, OUTRAGED!

While all of you are nattering on about stuffing geese with baby food to make them fat and tasty, you are naively ignoring the far worse abuse we humans commit in the name of culinary exploration.

Yes, I'm talking about the vicious murder of hundreds of thousands of living plants every day.

We can all justify killing and eating animals. After all, they bite and can be quite dangerous.

But innocent lovely plants...how can you justify destroying them merely to fill your fat immoral stomachs!

Yes, you disgust me, you plant eaters. You are so vile and cruel, you even snip off the young plants' reproductive organs and present them to potential mates as part of your bizzare love rituals. What kind of sick threat is that anyway?

From now on, I urge all of you to give up your terrible appetites for innocent foliage, roots, flowers, nuts, seeds, and fruits. The plants have never done you any harm, and it is horrible to contemplate what you do to them every day!

(I suspect some of you even have house bound slave plants you keep indoors for your sick amusement. Disgusting!)

Beware, or one day the plants shall rise up and take their revenge. For me, I'm giving up all plant related foods for good, and will only eat food that once had a face.

Now is there a particular brand of foi gras you'd recommend?

Best,

Fred "Save the Flowers!" Williams

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PistolPete Oct. 20, 2009 @ 11:16 p.m.

ROTFLMMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 21, 2009 @ 7:56 a.m.

But innocent lovely plants...how can you justify destroying them merely to fill your fat immoral stomachs!

(I suspect some of you even have house bound slave plants you keep indoors for your sick amusement. Disgusting!)

lol...

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jerome Oct. 21, 2009 @ 10:03 a.m.

har de har.............hmmmmmm? stuff em till they quack,a happy satisfied quack please.i do enjoy foie gras,and also think fred has it all figured out. as a side note, please order the lobster knowing they will be submerged in a pot of boiling water,ALIVE and SCREAMING.

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