As foie gras ban looms in California, enthusiasts vow civil disobedience

Conor Skelding
June 29, 2012

Starting this Sunday, California will prohibit the sale or production of foie gras, the rich French delicacy made by a force-feeding ducks and geese. The process, called "gavage," causes a duck's liver to swell many times its normal size, and is considered particularly cruel by animal rights advocates.

"Foie gras is a barbaric product. It never should have existed. It certainly should not exist now in 2012," Bryan Pease, the co-founder of the Animal Protection and Rescue Leage, told Reuters. "Culture, tradition, none of it justifies torturing an animal."

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a new section of the Health and Safety Code in 2004 which stipulated that a person may neither "force feed a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size" nor sell the resultant product in California. The law stipulated that the ban would go into effect on July 1, 2012, seven-and-a-half years after its passage.

Any restaurant serving foie gras will be fined $1,000.

In response, a number of California chefs began the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (C.H.E.F.S.), which encourages supporters to sign a letter to the California legislature opposing the ban. Their petition reads, in part: "If we ban foie gras, animals will be the victims of a newly created black market. But if we regulate the industry instead, we can use the power of the California economy to reform farming practices around the world."

At least one California foie gras vendor, gourmet food specialist Laurel Pine, has moved from California to Nevada, Reuters reports. In the meantime, Californians with a taste for the delicacy are savoring foie gras while it lasts. Pine told Reuters that by the end of June, she will have sold four times the normal amount she sells in a month in California. "People in California are buying products they can keep in their freezer for two years," she said.

Restaurants also are taking advantage of this last weekend. Some are organizing "foie gras crawls." One Santa Monica establishment, Melisse, offers a $185, all foie-gras, "Foie for All" prix fixe.

Other foie gras enthusiasts are hosting secretive dinner parties centered around the foodstuff, organized through the website Dishcrawl."We believe in the freedom of people to eat what they want," Tracy Lee, creator of the website, told the Telegraph. "But we keep the location secret because foie gras is a dish best enjoyed without protests."

She adds: "The intrigue around doing something underground is quite exciting, though." Some Dishcrawl users vow to smuggle the treat in from out of state.

Twitter, too, has been a rally point for both foie gras enthusiasts and enemies,  promoting and competing for the hashtag #foiemageddon.

Las Vegas, only a few hours away from lots of California, will still serve all varieties of foie gras--including a foie gras burger that costs $5,000.