Is Foie Gras Torture?

For now, protesters haven't been showing up outside Brassel's apartment or threatening his customers. But, as Mark Caro recounts in his book The Foie Gras Wars, due out in March, these tactics have recently been used by activists in Philadelphia. In one case, the general manager of a restaurant recalled that a protester screamed at a customer, "You should die of cancer!" and another restaurateur recounted that protesters would yell, "We know where you live, and we're gonna get you!" Sometimes, the protesters would actually show up in the neighborhood, or a child would come home saying that someone told her that her father murders ducks.

Why are activists so devoted to this issue? Most of the organizations against foie gras also advocate vegetarianism or veganism. If you generally oppose the manipulation of animals for food, you're going to oppose foie gras all the more, because the production does manipulate the animal more than usual. Manipulation does not necessarily equal abuse, though. But it's manipulation of a different sort that is at work in the videos I watched before my Hudson Valley visit. Those images are not representative of the reality at the nation's largest foie gras farm.

The fact that foie gras is delicious is nice, but it is also besides the point. If hanging puppies by their ears and cutting off their paws produced the most fantastic meat imaginable, I wouldn't eat it and neither would you. Just because we eat animals doesn't mean that we don't draw lines about the welfare of the animals we're going to eat. I support humanely raised (not penned) veal, and I buy cage-free eggs. I don't think it's OK to cut the fin off a shark and throw it back into the water. Personally, I would avoid foie gras from the producers in France and Canada that use individual cages. The fact that some industrial farms elsewhere are making foie gras in inhumane ways doesn't mean that all foie gras production is inhumane. You can buy humanely raised chicken, or you can buy chicken that's had a nasty, brutal life. The same goes for foie gras.

Henley with nine-week-old ducks.
Amol Mhatre
Henley with nine-week-old ducks.
The farm at daybreak.
Amol Mhatre
The farm at daybreak.


How Foie Gras Gets Made
Photos of the whole process at Hudson Valley
by Amol Mhatre

If I had seen with my own eyes that Hudson Valley produced foie gras by abusing ducks, this article would have turned out very differently. But that just wasn't the case.
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