If you haven’t heard the news on Facebook or elsewhere, a new restaurant called Game opened last month in Louisville. True to its name, it serves mainly “game” meats, including some more exotic ones including kangaroo, ostrich, and wild boar. As disgusting as this is, it’s also insane to me why people have an obsession with weird meats like this. However, the inclusion of foie gras on their menu is a point of contention between myself and the owners. After talking with one of them, Adam, and learning about their source of foie gras, I felt it necessary to write openly about the problems of sourcing and serving foie gras.
Many will condemn this approach for being too narrow: “why don’t you go protest McDonalds too?” they say. We do. “Well, don’t you think all meat is inhumane?” I do, yes. But foie gras is expensive, unnecessary and supremely cruel. Far beyond raising animals for their flesh, ducks and geese are force-fed and tortured to put them in a diseased state where their liver becomes so fat that it is – for some twisted reason – considered a delicacy. This isn’t right, and I’m urging Game to stop carrying the dish. Read on for why:
I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me the other day and explain about the menu items at Game. As we discussed, there are often ethical issues regarding the production of foie gras (fatty liver), and I have found numerous issues with your supplier, Hudson Valley Farms.
In 2007, the farm was fined $30,000 for environmental violations due to spilling manure and other contaminants into a nearby river.
Numerous undercover investigations at this farm have documented severe animal abuse and torture:
A 2008 investigation by Compassion Over Killing documented “…pipes being shoved down their [the ducks] throats and food pumped into their stomachs to being grabbed by their wings, shackled upside down, and their throats slit.”
The “cage-free” claim of Hudson Valley does little to alleviate the pain and suffering of the ducks and geese in question. A doctor of veterinary medicine, Holly Cheever, commented on 2011 footage from Hudson Valley: “Here you can see the animals’ feathers are just tattered…You can see that the feather pieces have come off of the main stem of the feather which indicates they are kept dirty, they’re crowded, their feathers are breaking, and this would be very unnatural. It certainly indicates a poor husbandry and not at all a natural state for ducks to be in.”
In 2009, a reporter from The New York Times documented not the conditions of the animals, but of the workers: “…the underpaid, overworked and often gruesomely exploited farmworkers who feed and otherwise care for the ducks”
In 2009, a distributor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, D’Artagan Inc. was forced to modify the language of its description of the meat, after it was found that the claims “The liver is not diseased, simply enlarged” and “Animals are hand-raised with tender care under the strictest of animal care standards” were not able to be verified by a review of the relevant scientific evidence. This decision, by the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau, exemplifies what many veterianarians and other animal welfare advocates have said for decades: foie gras cannot be produced humanely.
There is all of this, in addition to the large body of evidence that production of foie gras is simply inhumane. While Hudson Valley’s website may defend their methods, numerous veterinarians, doctors, and other industry experts disagree. The feed used, at Hudson Valley, for instance, is nutritionally deficient, and “designed to artificially cause hepatic lipidosis.” This “onset of liver stetosis” (fatty degeneration) can manifest as up to 50% or 60% fat content in the liver of the diseased, force-fed bird. By comparison, the liver of a healthy duck or goose is approximately 5%. This evidence is referenced extensively in a 2012 document prepared by the Humane Society.
This report also details other numerous problems with foie gras production, including injuries sustained during feeding, aversion to force-feeding in the ducks themselves, lameness in the birds, exaggerated mortality, and other issues. In addition, the report debunks all of the claims made by Hudson Valley on their website, such that the birds are not harmed in the process, or that they would eat that much naturally.
Adam, in our discussion on this week, you said that serving food with integrity was important to you, and that coming from a family of hunters, serving and eating game meats made sense. Foie gras does not fit this description: it is an antiquated “delicacy” from French culture that does not fall into the sportsmen-like terms of hunting and food sourcing that you refer to both with your family history, and with the title of your restaurant. Ducks and geese that are crammed into warehouses, force-fed unnatural amounts of food, and slaughtered well before their natural life span cannot possibly qualify as food with “integrity.”
In addition, you stated your disdain for factory farms and modern production methods of “standard” meats like chicken. While I share your concern about CAFOs and large scale agriculture farming, Hudson Valley is nothing more than a factory farm in disguise. The cruelty documented numerous times, along with the large body of evidence that foie gras production is hell on these sensitive birds puts no mincing of words around the fact that this is animal abuse.
With sincerity you told me that you are an animal lover, and it is with that sentiment that I’m asking you to remove foie gras from your menu.
Foie gras production has also been outlawed in the U.K., Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Israel, Denmark, and most recently in our own state of California. In fact, California producers were given a full eight years to come up with an alternative to the cruel force-feeding (gavage). No method was found, and the ban remains today (see http://tnl.su/YEnvwr for more info).
In closing, I find most powerful a quote from Justice E. Rivlin, one of the justices in 2003 who moved forward Israel’s complete ban on the production of foie gras. He writes, in the verdict,
As for myself, there is no doubt in my heart that wild creatures, like pets, have emotions. They were endowed with a soul that experiences the emotions of joy and sorrow, happiness and grief, affection and fear. Some of them nurture special feelings towards their friend-enemy: man. Not all think so; but no one denies that these creatures also feel the pain inflicted upon them through physical harm or a violent intrusion into their bodies. Indeed, whoever wishes to may find, in the circumstances of this appeal, prima facie justification for the acts of artificial force-feeding, justification whose essence is the need to retain the farmer’s source of livelihood and enhance the gastronomic delight of others…. But this has a price — and the price is reducing the dignity of Man himself. (src)
Thank you for your time,