Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foie gras bust in California?

It sure looks that way. As most of you might know (in case you don't you are in the right place here), California has banned the production and sale of foie gras as of July 1st 2012. Here we go again! Remember the ban in Chicago? That did not last very long and Mayor Daley then commented that Chicago had bigger problems to tend to. They repealed the ban and moved on to more important things. As of now it does not look like repeal of the law in CA is coming anytime soon to the dismay of many Chefs there.
My humble origins go back to France in the heart of foie gras country, ie, Gascony. Foie gras in France is everywhere and has been for as long as anyone can remember. It is a delicacy but also an important part of our culinary culture and heritage. France produces 78% of the world's foie gras vs the USA 1.8%. Now you know why some of us are all for it. As a Chef, I am a bit, make that a lot, irritated by this ban nonsense in CA or anywhere else for that matter. I believe that the people who were behind that ban and lobbied for the law have an agenda of their own which bring the question: who are they to tell me what I should eat or not eat? The other side of the discussion is economics and jobs and California is doing it .......again. Chasing more jobs out of the state which is already broke. Let's talk about what it takes to produce foie gras.
The duck farmer needs land that if it does not own it, it will cost him rent.
Then there is equipment and materials along with shelter for the birds.
Then there is the staff to care for the birds 24/7.
Then there are the farmers who produce the feed and corn for the birds.
Then there is the company which produces the eggs ( males are raised for foie gras and meat, females are raised for meat only).
About two weeks old!
Then there are the truckers who transport all of the above.
Then there is the processing plan for slaugthering, cutting, packaging and final State and Federal inspections and stamps of approval (the producer pays for the inspections).
Then there is the cold storage facilities who stores the duck various products including the foie gras which the producer must rent.
Then there are the shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS who deliver the products to your door or to the Chefs directly. See the impact of this ban? and this is only a small fraction of the foie gras production in the USA so what's next?
Getting there, looks like happy ducks to me!
Moulard ducks and the foie gras they produce are close to my culinary heart. Of course I must address the controversy about the forcefeeding of the ducks to obtain foie gras. I recently visited a duck farm to find out for myself and what I saw was standards way above and beyond the farming practices typical of other types of poultries beind raised in this country. The birds are raised in well vented and cooled (or heated as the weather changes) in very spacious barns and have plenty of room to roam and grow comfortably. Once they have grown their feathers they are taken outside where they have plenty of food,water, shade and room to roam free. I was totally impressed to see how much land is used to raised the ducks. I have seen before a chicken farm where the chickens are raised in very cramped conditions and only indoors for all of their short lives. The media would have us believe that animal mistreatment is a common thing in poultry farming and they might be right in some instances. Well, not so in this duck farm. The duck farmers here showed me everything and had nothing to hide. They graciously answered all my questions and thanks to their honesty I now consider myself very knowledgeable on this topic. Of course I wanted to see the forcefeeding of the ducks for myself and was granted that too.
The process is actually pretty short, just a few seconds as the ducks are fed a premeasured portion of corn twice a day. There is no other way to produce foie gras and this process only last two weeks during which time they are housed indoors in spacious pens with plenty of water and in a cool environment.
I had the opportunity to process whole Moulards ducks raised for foie gras over the past year and can assure you all of the eight ducks that I did were in perfect health meaning, no bruises, scratches, no broken bones, etc. Now the same cannot be said for the chicken we buy in our neighbourhood food stores! Next time take a closer look!
What will it take to repeal this ridiculous ban in CA? The Chefs must join together and their guests too. As for me, sign me up for this fight.

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