A French delicacy is serving up a debate between some of California’s most high-powered chefs and politicians.
The days of foie gras are numbered in the Golden State. Come July 1 California will become the first in the nation to ban the duck or goose fat liver state wide.
But even after giving California chefs almost eight years to prepare for the ban, some of the state’s finest culinary experts are uniting to fight the new law.
About 100 chefs have signed a petition to try and reverse the California ban. The chefs say that the animals are not inhumanely treated as the legislation suggests.
And the debate also has some chefs feeling the heat and fearing for their personal safety, in part due to controversial statements by John Burton, the current Chairman of the California Democratic Party, and a former California State Senator who helped pass the ban in 2004.
Burton’s words in an April interview with The San Francisco Chronicle are now causing just as much, if not more, controversy than the original debate.
"They've had all this time to figure it out and come up with a more humane way," he told the paper. "I'd like to sit all 100 of them down and have duck and goose fat - better yet, dry oatmeal- shoved down their throats over and over and over again."
Burton says he has no recollection of “saying over and over and over” and instead he is frustrated by what he calls a last ditch effort to repeal the law by foie gras supporters.
But some chefs say they fear for their personal safety.
“I’ve been told I should be gutted and my entrails fed to people in the street,” said Chris Cosentino, a chef and co-owner of San Francisco’s Incanto. “It’s okay to kill me but not okay to raise an animal and feed people with it?”
Chefs like Costentino say the bill was passed with little support and not enough research.
Douglas Keane is the chef and owner of Healdsburg’s four-star restaurant Cyrus. He is also a licensed dog trainer and a self-proclaimed animal lover who refuses to serve dishes like milk-fed veal because he doesn't feel it is humane.
But he said foie gras is different.
“A lot of what we do in livestock isn’t a natural thing,” he said. “I think the question that comes down to it is: Is it humane or not?”
Keane said he visited a production farm in Sonoma County to watch the process firsthand.
Producing foie gras involves a handler placing a metal tube down the bird’s throat, transferring pounds of corn mush three times a day.
It is a process that can enlarge the liver up to 10 times its normal size. And supporters argue it is a normal practice because water birds historically store pounds of food in the liver before embarking on a long flight.
Incanto co-owner Mark Pastore said modern agriculture and farming take advantage of evolutionary traits that already exist.
“Animals and plants have both been manipulated to be something bigger than is natural,” he said. “Turkeys do not grow eight pound breasts. A wild cow is not the same size as a domesticated cow.”
The fine for violating the law is $1,000 and some chefs say they plan to find creative ways around the measure in the ban is not rescinded before July 1.