California’s ban on force-feeding water fowl to create foie gras takes effect in July, but that’s not stopping 35 notable San Francisco chefs and a total of 100 around the state from attempting to keep the French delicacy in high-end restaurants.
The group is petitioning state lawmakers to strictly regulate the process of obtaining the enlarged livers rather than outlawing it. But state Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said last week that the Legislature has more important matters afoot to rethink the ban, which became law in 2004 and included an 8-year grace period.
Still, restaurateurs say their businesses remain unsteady from economic fallout. They also fear a ban could hurt the state’s overall attractiveness to culinary travelers and might give rise to a black market.
“We want animals that are humanely and ethically raised,” said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “We disagree that a ban is the way to get it done.”
Former state Sen. John Burton, who authored the bill, said the industry was given ample time to come up with an alternative and that the push by chefs was too little, too late. He scoffed at the notion that gourmet restaurants would be shuttered over foie gras.
“It’s more or less a sophisticated person’s dish, I guess,” Burton said. “I don’t think they’re really going broke over that. They’re basically trying to eliminate a law that’s been on the books for seven years and trying to stay in the business of force-feeding ducks and geese.”
The chefs argue that regulations would create humane conditions for birds used for foie gras. They advocate cage-free spaces, hand-feeding, reasonable limits on fattening and feeding methods that don’t impair breathing. Black said the restaurant industry has no interest in serving lower-quality meat from animals that are “stressed,” and noted that the birds naturally engorge themselves to survive long migrations.
Burton said as long as the birds are force-fed in any way, the process is simply illegal. He chided advocates who want to scale back the ban, saying maybe they could see what it feels like to “have a duck spit food down their throat, and see how it works.”
“It wasn’t about foie gras,” Burton said of the legislation. “It was about ramming tubes down the throats of harmless animals and doing the equivalent of waterboarding.”