On July 1, 2012, chefs in the state of California will no longer be able to serve foie gras in their restaurants. CA Senate Bill 1520 stipulates: “A product may not be sold in California if it is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.” That translates to “No foie for you,” and chefs everywhere are pissed off. Since when did liver get legislated? On Friday at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, four chefs gathered to bid adieu to their beloved foie—and it was awesome.
The “Farewell to Foie” lunch brought together Andre Bienvenu from Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach, San Francisco’s Chris Cosentino (taking a break from pork), and both Michael Ginor and Amos Hayon of Lola in Great Neck, NY. Ginor gets special mention as the co-founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one of the only modern sustainable producers of foie gras in the world.
Like some sort of rich heiress’s fever dream, everything served at the lunch featured foie in some way. The preparations ranged from the very traditional (beef tenderloin topped with seared Hudson Valley foie gras) to completely off-the-wall (a hot pot where you squeezed a syringe of foie into hot water to create “noodles”; see photo). From torchon to crème brûlée, this was a meal that made foie the star of the show and if PETA showed up, they could suck a duck. It may sound intense, but this lunch was a celebration of the ingredient and it only made sense to cram as much foie on the plate as possible.
While not discussed in detail, the meal most certainly had a political component. Bienvenu, who usually serves straight-up seafood at Joe’s, has been working with foie gras his whole life. His fondness comes at least partly from his French heritage and he’s not happy that foie is being legislated.
“I don’t think it should be banned,” he said. “It’s part of the food chain. It’s part of the food culture that we grew up with. I think it should stay.”
Earlier in the day, Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine magazine, took the debate a step further. She talked about the foie ban as being too broad to be legitimate.
“I think where food and politics intersect, things get really muddy and a little scary and dangerous,” she said. “You can have whatever opinion you want about foie gras as a food product, but I get really nervous when what I get to eat is legislated by the government, and I wonder what comes next.”
When you introduce laws concerning what people can eat based on how an animal was raised, it starts to look like the proverbial loose string on the sweater that could lead to the unraveling of the entire food industry. Who gets to decide that gavage (the method of force-feeding used to fatten the animals) is any worse than packing cattle into a barren factory farm feedlot in the middle of nowhere? At what point does the government step in to save chickens that are engineered to create enlarged body parts? It’s short-sighted and just plain not fair to try to legally protect some animals while others are being seriously mistreated in their journey to our plates.
According to most people involved with the foie lunch on Friday, regulating morality as it relates to raising animals is an arena best left out of politics. When July rolls around, it’ll be interesting to see if the law holds up to scrutiny. Cowin is optimistic: “I hope that there will be some further thought on the subject and that the law will not live for long.” For the sake of culinary freedom, let’s hope that she’s right.