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Culinary delicacy foie gras inspires a war -- and a book

July 6, 2009 |  7:50 pm

Foie gras We're hard pressed to think of a more controversial food than foie gras, the fancy (and, many animal advocates argue, inescapably cruel) dish made from the fattened livers of ducks or geese. To produce foie gras, the birds are force-fed large amounts of food through tubes pushed down their throats.

"In a matter of weeks, [the birds'] livers swell up to ten times their normal size," according to the website NoFoieGras.org, which is maintained by the animal protection organization Farm Sanctuary.  "Breathing and walking become difficult as the liver pushes against other organs, causing respiratory stress due to decreased air sac space in their lungs, and forcing the legs to move outward at an unnatural angle."

Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro's new book, "The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Largest Food Fight," offers an in-depth look at the practices that produce foie gras. 

Caro's book "is so well-written and so balanced in its treatment that it is, improbably, a real page turner. It has everything: fascinating characters, devious deeds, wit, suspense, science," Times food critic S. Irene Virbila writes on the Daily Dish blog.  "Guaranteed, you’ll think and think hard before you take that next bite of foie."  (Coming from a food critic, that's saying quite a lot.)

Fortunately for California animal lovers, the state issued a ban on force-feeding birds for the production of foie gras in 2004.  "There is no other known way to produce foie gras, so it de facto bans foie gras production. It also prohibits the sale of foie gras from force-fed birds," says Paul Shapiro, the senior director for the Humane Society of the United States' factory farming campaign.

But the ban doesn't go into effect until 2012 -- and even then, there's good reason for animal advocates to remain vigilant.  The city of Chicago passed a similar ban on restaurant sales of foie gras in 2006, but it was repealed two years later.

For more information on "The Foie Gras Wars," check its Amazon listing.  And Time Magazine has a great Q&A with Caro -- check it out at Time.com.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A dish of Pintade au Foie Gras. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times

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