Guest Post: Foie Gras, What is it and Why is it Still Being Served?!

With this whole artisan food craze, you may have noticed more and more restaurants including foie gras on their menus. If you’re a foodie, you have known about foie gras for years, and actually know how to pronounce it. { Fo Graaah } You have explained the contents of what makes up ‘foie gras’ but the conversation probably ended there. After you tell your friends that foie gras is actually the fatty liver of a goose or duck, there are no more questions. In reality, there are many questions to consider like; Are bird livers naturally fatty? Why is it so expensive? Is it normal for people to enjoy the liver of a goose? What does it taste like? What if it’s not fatty and just a normal liver? Why is it considered to be a delicacy? Those are just a few of the questions I’ve encountered, so before we go through the answers, let’s discuss a super brief history of foie gras.

Around 2,000 BC, the Ancient Egyptians discovered that right before geese go into hibernation in the winter, they eat lots of fatty food to bulk up as much as they can. But not only do their bodies get bigger and more plump, their livers grow as well. They grow to 4 times the size of a normal goose liver, but they become super large with fat. 

The Egyptians enjoyed the taste of the fatty goose liver, so this is when they actually began the ancient preparatory methods in order to make foie gras. They would feed the geese by hand large quantities of foods from the Nile river region. They would eventually force feed the bird tons of fatty food, in order to produce a goose with the fattiest liver possible. This was called “gavaging”, and this technique spread all throughout Europe. Eventually this delicacy, and the production methods, spread to North America, EXCEPT the force feeding is conducted with METAL tubes stuffed down their long throats which reach directly to their stomachs.

 Imagine being awake and aware of having a metal tube shoved down your esophagus, gag reflexes reacting but unable to follow through, because there is no way you can relieve oneself and throw up.  The long tube continues to be shoved down until it cannot possibly travel any further down. *Tap Tap Tap* the tube cannot go down any more, finally it must be hitting the bottom of the stomach! Now they can start the corn-feed being poured down the tube at an impossibly fast rate- ALL day and EVERY day. These geese have no choice whether they want to eat or not, no choice when and how often they eat, or what they eat. They don’t have a choice to become fat, no choice if they want to fly or walk, no choice except to blink. Blinking is all they can do. 

Some farmers noticed that the geese were so observant and adaptable, that when the goose saw the food coming and knew what was going to happen, they would actually ‘act out’ and try to refuse in some way or another. They would even make themselves sick due to the stress.  To avoid this, the ‘gavagers’ or farmers would start poking their birds’ eyes out so that they could no longer see the feeding coming. 

Their one remaining choice after being tied down, wings clipped, and tubes shoved down their throats, was to blink, and move their eyes to observe their surroundings. Those small choices were taken from them. Once the geese are blinded and fed, the gavaging is finished. The geese or ducks are now four times their natural weight and are slaughtered solely for their fatty livers.

Foie gras is banned in many countries but not here in the US. Many restaurants refuse to have it on their menu due to the inhumane method of production. However, you can still easily find and purchase foie gras.

To answer those previous questions; no, goose liver is not naturally fatty, it is only supposed to be slightly more fatty for the use of surviving hibernation in the wild. Yes, the liver of a goose is very small, but when forced fed in this method, it grows in size (to  about the size of your palm). Foie gras is expensive because it takes a lot of work from the farmers to produce it, and the chef has to do a lot of work to prepare the liver once they obtain it. 

People eat the birds’ liver in the form of a pâté or paste. It can be made into a foam or mousse and ingested that way as well, and the texture is described to be creamy, primarily due to the fact that the animal was fed mostly corn which produces a rich texture. Some people consider foie gras to be a delicacy because of its cost and history. Only the aristocratic part of society could afford to have it made. Due to the extensive preparation of foie gras, it costs $50 per pound today.

Farmers who ‘gavage’ their geese ensure that their animals are going to have the fattiest liver possible right before slaughter. There would be no use for a “healthy liver” in this industry. There has been a long debate in current history on whether the livers are considered “diseased.”. Whether consumers are eating a diseased liver or not, there is no denying that they are eating an unnaturally huge and overtly fatty liver of a goose or duck whose life was torture until slaughtered. 

Geese and ducks may not be the brightest of the bird species, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. What they lack in “intelligence”, they make up for with their amazing energy conservation, adaptive behavior, and keen observation, which all three are complex in cognition {they’re not dumb!}. Geese use their brain-power in situations that can directly benefit their survival and food consumption. Other birds use precious calories to fuel the parts of their brains that  are responsible for strategy with sneaky behaviors, such as hiding food for later consumption. They basically use calories to fuel behaviors that stem from being fearful of other like-minded birds.

Geese do not use their calories in this way, because they do not see the direct benefits of this kind of sneaky behavior, in fact, it is completely unnecessary to them. Instead, they’ll use their brain-power to adapt to new environments, so that they can be in a grass field in the morning, fly to the beach in the afternoon, and finally end up in the middle of Manhattan at night! 

In all three locations, they know how to thrive because they are masters of their environments. In the grass field, geese eat grass, bugs, and worms, and are hyper aware of any predators nearby. On the beach, the same geese can swim to find food, fly over the water to spot food, swoop down from the sky into the water to hunt, or walk on the sand to find edibles. It seems that geese in a crowded city could not be any more unnatural. How could a goose thrive in a concrete jungle? Well, they learn very quickly that (most) humans are NOT hunters and can be trusted, dare I say even “helpful”, by feeding them. 

Geese learn to stick together in groups, find edible trash, find the closest park, trust most humans, stay away from cars, and basically thrive in a city just as well if not better within a city. Why would a goose end up in a city, why not stay at the beach or field, you ask? Well, geese migrate for the winter, so they are on the move. Perhaps a storm interrupts their travel from Antarctica to Mexico, and they end up in Barcelona, Venezuela. The geese remain in that city until the storm passes. 

If humans could fly and had wings, people would end up in all kinds of climates, environments, and all sorts of situations. So, by now I’m sure you realize that geese are extraordinary animals, to say the least, and are much needed in the bird world, the animal world, AND the world we all know and love. If you are ever in the situation to educate others about the cruel and unnecessary production of foie gras and the awesome abilities of geese/ducks, please take a stand! 

There’s absolutely no need to eat foie gras, or any other animal products, in this day and age. It is time to wave goodbye to out-dated beliefs and practices, and say hello to a compassionate, animal-friendly world.

Guest Post Contributed By: Kristen Massa

One comment

  1. Krystal · March 13, 2018

    Wow what an informative article! 🤗 definitely will never be ordering foie gras that’s for sure! Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

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