Debunking Foie Gras, America’s Most Controversial Luxury Ingredient

D'Artagnan founder Ariane Daguin schools us on this prized—but deeply misunderstood—ingredient, and gives us a tour of the Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm where her ducks are raised.

ariane

D'Artagnan founder Ariane Daguin and her Moulard duck foie gras. (Photo: Liz Barclay)

Foie gras, or fattened liver of ducks and geese, is an ingredient synonymous with luxury. It's a staple of the French cooking that still defines the upper echelons of fine dining, but it has also found wider appeal in the hands of today's creative chefs, who deploy it in everything from macarons to Vietnamese-inspired pho (Wylie Dufresne's cheekily named “Pho Gras”). Even rappers are beginning to shift their filet-mignon dreams toward the luxe liver: “Foie gras at every meal,” brags Action Bronson in his 2012 track, “Brown Bag Wrap.”

Yet for all its popularity in culinary circles, foie gras is also one of America’s most controversial ingredients. Animal rights groups claim that foie is a "diseased" product because it requires the force-feeding of ducks, called gavage, which these groups view as inhumane. In 2012, the entire state of California banned the production and sale of foie gras.

Before 1984, fresh foie gras was not even available in the United States, aside from the black-market variety, smuggled illegally from France inside monkfish. Ariane Daguin, the owner of D’Artagnan—the largest distributor of foie gras in the United States—took note of this scarcity when she came to the U.S. from Gascony.

For all its popularity in culinary circles, foie gras is also one of America’s most controversial ingredients.

“There was huge potential in America, but nobody knew what fresh foie gras was,” says Daguin. By 1984, D'Artagnan was the sole distributor of domestically-produced foie, and the product caught on like wildfire (Daguin's customers included heavyweight chefs Charlie Palmer and Daniel Boulud). At the same time, animal rights activists began targeting the product.

We wanted to explore the ethics of the ingredient first-hand, so we took a trip out to the Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm, where D’Artagnan ducks are raised, to see how it's made. As we visited the stress-free, well-cared-for ducks and watched them go through their force-feeding, it quickly became clear that there's more to foie than the nightmarish factory-farm scenes we'd seen before on YouTube.

On our trip, we also quizzed Daguin—one of the country's foremost foie experts—about the factors that make foie gras so expensive, why domestic foie gras production is different from factory-farmed foie gras in other parts of the world, and much more.

The expert:

ariane

Ariane Daguin is an encyclopedia of foie gras knowledge. She is the owner of D'Artagnan, which supplies foie and other luxury ingredients to the nation's top restaurants, as well as home cooks via D'Artagnan's mail-order service. Daguin is also a French expat, cookbook author, and inspiring entrepreneur.

Here, Daguin debunks the myths of foie gras history, production, pricing, and ethics.

Click to start the list
  • Me

    It’s great that they got such an impartial “expert” (the head of a Foie Gras company) to tell us how perfectly humane the process is. Who wants to hear from those animal welfare people anyway.

    • http://www.michiganradio.org/ Stephen Morrow

      You’re right. After all, those animal welfare people never expose anything useful anyway because, again after all, disgusting practices found in factory farming means safety for the humans that consume animal flesh and products.
      Happy to see I’m not the only one scratching his (bald) head on this. I’d take my hat off to you but, alas, I don’t want to expose what the past sixty years has done to my hairline.

    • Jesse

      Why would they get an impartial expert? This is a food blog, and this article is written by an expert in making a specific food product. Did you think this was some kind of news/current event site?

      • Fernando Ospina

        The word “debunk” does imply a commitment to fact and truth.

        • Jesse

          That’s a fair point, though I would exclude truth in this debate… Too subjective, both sides claim to have it.

  • http://www.michiganradio.org/ Stephen Morrow

    Oh come on. We’ve already seen videos that outline the horror of foie gras and you want to tell us that you made a single visit to a single farm and this farm is magically the perfect poster child for the entire, innocent industry?

    Were you paid to spread this propaganda or just an idiot?

    • Jesse

      Sure there are bad factory farms, just like with cows, pigs, chickens etc… we should be angry about those, but that doesn’t mean that the product itself is bad. There are videos of Hudson Valley ducks, as well as plenty of others that show, quite clearly, that this practice isn’t horrific at all.

      Not all farming is factory farming, painting with such a broad brush is ignorant and hurtful to farmers who are doing nothing wrong.

      • http://www.michiganradio.org/ Stephen Morrow

        I re-read what I wrote and I can’t seem to find the part where I talk about how all farming is wrong. Hmm … still looking … looking again. Nah. Not seeing it.

        Though, I’m sure you’re right. Force feeding animals by shoving metal tubes down their throats is ALWAYS going to be stress-free. What was I thinking?

        You’re right, Jesse. I’m a zealot. You must be proud at being such an excellent reader of people from single comments on Disqus. Well done, chap.

        • chef

          Did you actually read the article, or are you just repeating the garbage PETA shoves down your throat? Duck don’t have gag reflexes, and if you ever took the time to visit a Foie Gras farm, those ducks are so excited to be force fed.

        • Jesse

          Farming was used in the context of foie gras, the topic we are discussing, not difficult to infer. You continue to embrace emotional sensationalism over facts. Ducks/Geese have no gag reflex, they can swallow whole fish that are much bigger than the metal tubes used here.

    • Jesse

      Secondly, your last sentence gives you away. You’re a zealot, no amount of evidence and reasonable logic is going to change your mind.

      • BarrysHypocrisy

        You can’t change a zealot’s mind because they aren’t very smart and facts don’t mean anything to their emotional way of thinking.

    • BarrysHypocrisy

      So, I guess you’ve visited EVERY single foie gras farm and know for a fact that they are all inhumane, right? Or, do you just blindly believe the propaganda videos by the animal rights terrorists groups?

      Which is it?

  • tickyul

    Ducks are so, so gentle and very human-like…….sharing 99.84% of the same DNA with Humans. How…………..HOW could anyone MURDER a noble and family oriented Duck, SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Max_Taffey

      You’re joking. Ha ha.

      • tickyul

        NOT JOKING, millions of Humanstinkers consider Ducks cherished members of their families!

        Thumbs way down for your Humanstinkercentrism…. and an inability to appreciate the goodness and humanity that Ducks possess.

        • Max_Taffey

          You’re either joking, or you’re a crazy person. Your statement that ducks DNA is 99.84% the same as humans is absurd.

    • moojinha

      Where are you getting that number? We share about 60% dna (which means just closely related rather than truly shared of course) with birds. And of course, sharing dna, does not make our anatomy like each other. i.e. just because some dna is shared, doesn’t mean we produce substance p (the transmitter for pain) the same way. So that’s just absurd.
      As for the rest of your comment, if you believe they’re family, cool, you don’t kill your ducks and geese. I have had sucks, and I don’t see them as family. Don’t try to convince me to see my food as family that’s just not right for you to push your ideas on others.

      • tickyul

        Millions….if not billions of Humanstinkers consider Ducks cherished family member…..and you simply ignore these facts. Duck are very, very, extremely Human-like…..why do you think they are used so extensively in medical testing and drug trials????? At your own moral and spiritual peril…..go ahead and ignore the goodness, morality and humanity that Ducks exhibit and benefit the world with. Ducks work very hard to raise their families and be peaceful members of the planet earth. Go ahead, stuff a poor Duck full of food and then MURDER it for your greedy wants, not needs………GREEDY WANTS!

        • Max_Taffey

          Foie gras is delicious. Mmmmm!

  • http://gangsteroffood.com/ Mike A.

    Consider rewording:

    MYTH: FACTORY FARMING OF FOIE GRAS CAN BE ETHICAL.

  • Nathan Resick

    What a ridiculous article…. no necks, no gag relfex?

    and so that means force feeding via funnel is just A OK?

    No, it’s not ok. It’s horribly wrong and completely immoral. Stop attempting to justify your disgusting behavior.

    • moosh

      Ok. She gave her reasons for believing so, what are your reasons to believe what you believe?

  • Not a hippy

    Foie gras is produced by force feeding animals.
    I believe that my food should have a reasonable quality of life prior to slaughter.
    Some of the abhorrent practices of meat production need to change and I’m willing to pay the incremental cost.

  • scrumble

    “In nature, ducks force-feed themselves” How can any duck possibly force feed itself? If it wants to eat it eats, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. It sure as hell doesn’t shove a pipe straight into its stomach.

    I am curious though. If ducks and geese enjoy this so much, why no video of these birds flocking to the farmer when he enters the pen to force feed them?

    • moosh

      What she means by force feeding, is eating after being full. Which basically causes the liver to get bigger as it has to provide more enzymes to digest the what has been consumed. In France, I believe, there is one farmer who gets his ducks to force feed themselves without a pipe, but since it requires more work, his foie is also much more expensive.

  • http://www.chrismorleydesign.com Chris Morley

    Biased account of an inhumane practice

    • moojinha

      As opposed to what PETA puts out, which are neither biased, nor incorrect ever huh?

  • Anya

    Of course there is a huge difference between factory farming and free range. I visited several foie gras farms in France, and the ducks seemed happy and healthy with plenty of green space to roam about. We even watched the force feeding and there really wasn’t anything to it (the ducks seemed ambivalent for the most part, although some even ran toward the tubes).

    I’m willing to admit that most of our chicken, pork, beef, etc. is raised in astonishingly inhumane conditions…which makes me all the more surprised that people go out of their way to put up a stink about foie gras!

  • Etienne Jaulin

    Would you trust Monsanto to demonstrate the superiority of
    genetically modified corn or soybean?

  • chickenadvocate

    If ducks and geese are so eager to be force-fed, why do they have to be forced? Why don’t they just overeat of their own volition? And if geese eat extra food prior to a migration it’s because they need extra food to provide energy for a long, energy-intensive flight. By contrast, birds raised for diseased livers are either completely sedentary or virtually sedentary compared to their wild counterparts. People who sit in front of the TV or computer all day without exercise get fat. People who are active turn their food into fuel. It’s the same with ducks, geese or any other animals. DUH. Karen Davis. United Poultry Concerns

    • moojinha

      Umm what are you saying? So it’s inhumane to ask a person to work in cubicles for more than eight hours a day for it hurts the body just as much with that logic right?
      The ducks aren’t diseased. And they’re force fed only for the last few weeks off their lives, you know, before we kill them to eat them. You know what are pretty fat and can’t move before killing? Chickens. They get so fat, sometimes they break their feet of they try to walk. So why not make that illegal instead of getting so bent out of shape over slightly chubby ducks?

  • moojinha

    At times, I feel so unlucky to be in California. Some places won’t even ship foie to California from out of state anymore. To me, that’s a very sad thing. I don’t understand why PETA never brings any scientific study, any solid facts, but just some biased pamphlets, and gets to actually succeed in banning something that a lot of culinary people find absolutely amazing.
    What is more inhumane? Killing our planet, and weakening survival chance of many plants by over cultivation of corn, the practices in which chicken and veal are produced, or making of foie gras? If you’re going to say the latter, please bring LOGICAL reasons. If you’re gonna pick any of the other ones, then explain to me why those practices aren’t illegal. Thank you.

Newsletter

Feed your inbox.

Subscribe