The Jew And The Carrot

Debates: Should Foie Gras Be Banned?

By Blair Thornburgh

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Hudson Valley Foie Grasa

It’s not only the humble hot dog getting a grilling in the media these days: a much fancier Jewish food has been making headlines and igniting the passions of foodies and lawmakers alike. Is it a killer kugel? A rogue rugelach? Or a fiendish…foie gras?

Yes, the delicacy of pate made from fatty bird liver, which as of yesterday is banned California (after a seven-and-a-half year grace period passed after a 2004 law), is thoroughly Jewish, says Michael Ginor, acclaimed chef and author of “Foie Gras…A Passion.” “Duck and goose fat made a good substitute for pork,” says Ginor, who is also the president of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, New York.

The rich foodstuff is practically synonymous with luxury, a perennial favorite of gourmet chefs that’s singular in its sumptuousness. “It’s unlike any other animal product that I know of,” Jon Shook, owner of the Los Angeles restaurant Animal, told the New York Times. “We’re working on dishes to replace it, but you can never really replace foie gras.” Still, not everyone’s so eager to tuck in to the treat. To produce the highly-sought-after enlarged liver, geese or ducks must be force-fed for the last days of their lives leading up to slaughter. The process — called “gavage” — has long been a lightning rod for the ire of animal-rights activists, spurring California lawmakers to push for a statewide prohibition the on production and sale of foie gras.

It’s not just a modern — or secular — controversy, either. The discovery that waterfowl could be overfed to produce a richer, fattier liver goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who were stuffing their birds’ stomachs as early as 2500 BCE, and passed it to the Greeks and Romans.

Though it fell out of fashion elsewhere, the fattened liver remained popular with Jewish cooks, and it was a group of Italian Jews who reintroduced it to Europe in the Alsace region of France in the 11th century, according to The “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.” As the Ashkenazi preparation of broiled and chopped liver gained popularity as the Alsatian dish foie haché (literally, chopped liver), rabbinic authorities began to question the animals’ welfare. However, after judging that the relative hardness of the fowl’s gullet made the process minimally painful, religious authorities allowed the overfeeding. Later, foie gras would even become one of the first products exported from the state of Israel after its founding in 1948.

It was there, while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1980s, that Ginor first encountered this “great product,” and shortly afterwards partnered with Izzy Yanay, a pioneering Israeli producer of foie gras, to found Hudson Valley Foie Gras in 1989. In Israel, Yanay had begun to use a hybrid breed of duck that was more disease-resistant, allowing for vertically integrated production where all steps, from feeding to slaughter, could occur on one site with the hardier birds. Today, at Hudson Valley, the birds are cage-free and hand-fed three times a day, with one feeder taking care of every 300 ducks to ensure lots of human contact. The end product is both prized and pricey — one-pound will run you a cool $40 online.

In the future, the company hopes to develop a facility for production of kosher foie gras, something which “we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Ginor says. In modern production, foie gras can be considered kosher under the correct rabbinical supervision if an inspection of the bird’s esophagus after slaughter reveals no blemishes, holes, or scars to indicate any suffering during its lifetime. But even without kosher certification, Ginor insists that his methods sustains the welfare of the animals. “There’s no question that the duck on day 28 of feeding is not as happy as a duck that hasn’t been fed,” he said earlier this year, in response to a lawsuit over the use of the word “humane” to describe another chef’s menu item prepared with Hudson Valley’s products.

As for the no-foie-zone in California, police officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco reported Tuesday that they have “no plans to enforce” the $1,000 citation fee. Many chefs are stubbornly doling out foie-centric fare, offering it up for free as a side dish or with a “foie-kage” (think corkage) fee to slide through loopholes. Ginor is optimistic as well, saying he expects “a good chance of overcoming [the ban] with litigation.” If the past is any indication, he could be right. In 2008, Chicago city council members overturned a similar ban after almost two years of outcry from chefs. Whatever happens, don’t expect the wild goose chase to end without a fight: “Some [chefs] may stay away, but others will challenge,” says Ginor.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Foie Gras, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Michael Ginor

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.