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In favor of foie gras -- Ken Frank speaks out

April 11, 2012 |  6:38 pm

Foie gras
Ken Frank, the chef at Napa Valley's La Toque restaurant (and from 1979 to 1994 the chef at a restaurant by the same name here in Los Angeles), has long been a very public supporter of the use of foie gras and of the farmers who produce it. He wrote this in reaction to a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece Tuesday by former state senator and California Democratic Party chairman John Burton.

John Burton’s piece “Foie Gras Isn’t Forever” trots out old arguments that are really over. I could refute point after point. There simply is no longer an objective case to be made that foie gras, as produced at the best farms today, results in either animal cruelty or torture.  But I have a better idea.

Let’s repeal  AB 1520, which will create the biggest black market since Prohibition, and replace it with the world’s highest standards for humane foie gras. A black market removes any incentive to treat the animals well and focuses instead on "not getting caught." To be clear, it will not help the ducks. I’m advocating a "win-win." Every chef I know supports humane farming. We’ll be happy to work with Mr. Burton and others that support humane farming to craft standards that establish California as the global leader in Humane Foie Gras.

The progress that the leading foie gras farmers have made in the last seven years is impressive. Faced with ruinous harassment lawsuits and unrelenting, well-funded opposition from animal rights extremists, they had no choice but to go "all in" and prove their product is humane. Working closely with some of the best independent animal welfare experts, they have developed rigorous, comprehensive humane protocols. From hatching through growing, hand-feeding and slaughter, they successfully address every possible concern, making sure the animals are not harmed. They freely submit to regular animal welfare audits to ensure that these strict protocols are being met. 

The best foie gras producers have nothing to hide. Let’s get right to the point. In 2009, the Village Voice investigated Hudson Valley Foie Gras in a piece called “Is Foie Gras Torture?” The reporter had full access to the farm and was coached by activists prior to her visit on what to look for. She was told she’d find diseased birds, unable to walk or breathe, birds covered in their own vomit, birds with festering sores on their feet, birds having seizures in “end stage” liver failure and comatose birds still being force-fed to make foie gras. The activists described the most evil gulag of all time. It was a big lie. In fact, the reporter came away with very much the same impression I have every time I visit a foie gras farm. Done right, gavage [the process of feeding the ducks] is neither cruel nor torture. Her conclusion, "You can buy humanely raised chicken or a chicken that's had a nasty, brutal life. The same goes for foie gras." 

So let’s stop arguing. Almost all of us eat meat and want to continue. Let’s work together in California and show the world a better way.

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Photo: Torchon of foie gras at Papilles restaurant. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times

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