Chef Dan Barber Brings Sustainable, Humane Foie Gras to America

by Ann Marie Michaels on October 20, 2009

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foiegras

Every time I post about foie gras, I get hate mail. Get ready to comment, because here we go again.

Foie gras is one of the most delicious foods on the planet. Not only that, it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods, full of fat soluble activators including vitamins A, D, E, and K that protect us from all manner of degenerative disease. It’s also a very traditional food that has been around for thousands of years (can you say Egyptians?).

For these reasons, I will not stop loving foie gras and I will not stop eating it, with no apologies, no matter what anyone says. Even California Governor Arnold Schwartzenneger, who signed a bill in 2004 requiring that Sonoma Foie Gras “shut down the operation or convert it to another use by 2012 due to demonstrable animal cruelty by force-feeding.” (Source)

I agree with Chef Anthony Bourdain who holds that position that while contemporary foie gras production is not ideal, it truly is no harm, no foul. (Get it? Foul? I made a pun. Sorry, I’ll stop that. I really hate puns.)

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this video of Bourdain showing the truth about foie gras production. It doesn’t look comfortable — but it doesn’t look painful either.

In fact, when my mother went to France a couple of years ago, she visited a foie gras farm. When she asked if the geese suffered during the gavage or “force-feeding” of grain, the French farmer laughed and said, “Are you kidding? They line up for it!”

But I’m not writing this post to convince you that force-feeding ducks and geese is an practice that should be upheld. Because it turns out there is a better way. Did you know there is such a thing as sustainable, humane foie gras?

There’s a farmer named Eduardo Sousa who raises geese on an idyllic farm in Spain. “He provides them with a plentiful spread of regional foods, including figs, nuts and herbs, knowing that the geese will instinctively gorge on food in preparation for the coming winter and long migration south.”

Yes, you heard that right. They gorge themselves. Instinctively. It’s what they do. Which is how foie gras was discovered in the first place, thousands of years ago.

By early December the geese at Pateria de Sousa can be seen waddling around the grounds, their swollen bellies nearly dragging on the ground as a result of their gluttony. Sousa harnesses nature whenever possible in order to create a more delicious and ethical product, eliminating the need for force-feeding.

Now Chef Dan Barber, owner of Blue Hill Restaurant in New York, is working to recreate Sousa’s sustainable model for producing truly free-range foie gras from non-force-fed geese here in the United States.

Watch him tell the story in the video below. Watch the whole thing because it will blow you away:

I am so excited about this, I can hardly stand it. Kudos to Eduardo Sousa and Chef Barber for resurrecting this sustainable model for one of the most nutrient-dense and delicious foods on the planet.

Here’s some really exciting news: Chef Dan Barber is speaking this year at the Weston A. Price Foundation annual conference this November 13-16 in Schaumburg, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.

This is truly the most exciting time of the year for me. I learn so much at every WAPF conference. I will be there in November, along with fellow Real Food Media bloggers, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Kimi of The Nourishing Gourmet, and Jenny of Nourished Kitchen (recently nominated as Best Sustainable/Green Food blog on FoodBuzz), and WAPF publicist, Kimberly from Hartke is Online.

We would love to see you there. (Come eat dinner with us! If you’re going, comment below and we’ll make arrangements for a dinner.) For details on the conference, click here.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana October 20, 2009 at 2:59 PM

What a great post! One of the greatest things I love about Spain is their commitment to raising and growing sustainably and organically. Their local foods movement is out of this world! Ecologico ;) (Can you tell I’m a Spaniard ;)

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LeahS July 20, 2011 at 10:08 AM

I didn’t know about their commitment! How fantastic! What can we do to get people to care over here!!! Grrr.

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Bonnie October 20, 2009 at 3:22 PM

It sounds delicious! I am looking forward to my first WAPF conference this fall and hope to see all my favorite bloggers there!

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cheeseslave October 20, 2009 at 3:57 PM

Bonnie –

I’ll email you offline about the conference. Looking forward to meeting you!

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cheeseslave October 20, 2009 at 4:01 PM

Diana – I am crazy about the food in Spain. I went to Barcelona a few years ago and fell in love with the Boqueria, the giant farmer’s market they have there.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Boqueria

I would go in the morning, order a cup of coffee, and just sit and take it all in, enthralled by the food, the people, the hustle and bustle. The displays of fresh fish they have there are unbelievable.

I preferred going to the Boqueria over any other sight-seeing. The last night we were there, we went and bought a ton of food and cooked a feast of tapas for New Year’s Eve. It was fantastic.

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Jen October 20, 2009 at 4:22 PM

On an only slightly related note, my father had a cow that got into some grain and ate itself to death a few years back. I can see your point.

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josh April 25, 2011 at 6:16 PM

that most likely occurred from acidosis (cows ferment their food, and too much grain =lots of acid)–completely unrelated to the liver fat storage

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Christine Kennedy October 20, 2009 at 4:50 PM

This is so wonderful to see sustainable, free range foie grois. I’ve not yet had it, but can’t wait until I do!

Hope you guys have a great time at the conference! I so wish I was going this year, but I have a little one to attend to this year. Maybe next year! Can’t wait to hear and see (with all your pictures) all about it Ann Marie!

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Soli October 20, 2009 at 5:07 PM

That is wonderful news! I have to admit that I have never eaten foie gras, and don’t much care for the idea of having it conventionally, but this I would eat.
Hel, I am having veal again for the first time since I was ten. A local farmer is keeping the calves with their mother, they’re out in the fields, living their lives.

and I am sure I am going to get flambed for this comment.

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cheeseslave October 20, 2009 at 5:09 PM

Christine, I will very much miss seeing you. It was so much fun to meet with you and hang out with you last year. I look forward to seeing you next year!

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Rosie_Kate October 20, 2009 at 5:15 PM

What a great post! Those videos were fantastic. I admit that I have never actually had foie gras, but it’s definitely on my list of things to try!

And I soooo wish I could go to the conference! When I got the brochure in the mail and saw that it was in driving distance, I was just dying to go. The budget does not allow, but maybe someday… :-)

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Kelly the Kitchen Kop October 20, 2009 at 9:35 PM

Wow, I’ve never been into foie gras until you first introduced me to it in April, Ann Marie, and before that I’d never have thought that I could listen to someone talk about it for 20 minutes and find it so interesting, but I did! :)

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Amy @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free October 21, 2009 at 4:59 AM

This is really neat – I was recently in Napa for a cooking competition and, while walking in the morning, stumbled upon a local farmer’s market. It was so neat to see the chefs from the local wineries in their whites, out shopping for the day’s food, talking to each other about what to make and with what. It brought tears to my eyes. I live in Dallas and you don’t see that often here. Ok, I’ve never seen it. :)
I know some restaurants have their ingredients shipped fresh daily and they work from that and others go to the markets when they can – I think the movement is slowly catching on here but it’s much slower than on the west coast and up north.

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lo October 21, 2009 at 6:22 AM

Awesome.
I can always count on you to spread the good news about stuff like this. Always great when I can feel better about what I’m eating!

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cheeseslave October 21, 2009 at 8:14 AM

Amy – I used to live in Dallas, too.

We also have moments like that here in LA. The Santa Monica Wednesday market is where all the chefs shop!

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Christine Kennedy October 21, 2009 at 11:29 AM

Ann Marie, I really wish I could be there to see and talk to you again too!

I was looking around on your blog to see if you had a discount code for Vital Choice Seafood. I saw one for US Wellness meats, but not Vital Choice. We are placing an order with someone else, then driving across the border to pick it up (as they don’t deliver to Canada). Could you let me know about that?

Thanks!

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cheeseslave October 21, 2009 at 11:50 AM

Christine,

We are ending all of our affiliate programs due to the recent FTC regulations that just passed. I need to go back and take down all those old links before the regulations go through Dec. 1.

I am going to speak to Vital Choice about advertising with us when I see them at the conference. As far as discount codes, I’m not sure. I am going to talk to both VC and USWM about doing coupons as part of my menu mailer. I will keep you posted.

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Jen October 21, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Christine,

I used the code DRJONNY to get 10% off my first order. I believe it still works, but you can only use it once. I tried for my second order, and was denied.

I found the code through a google search “Vital Choice Coupon”. Good luck!

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A Qute Idea October 21, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Thanks so much for sharing that video! It was awesome.

I’ve wanted to try foie gras since I heard about it years ago. This is only fueling that fire!

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Jason Monaghan October 22, 2009 at 2:52 PM

Hello AM,

I am trying to get my passport in order so I can attend the conference. I’d love to come out to dinner if you’ll have me.

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Angelique October 22, 2009 at 7:41 PM

It’s too bad that foie gras is seen as worse than other factory farmed food products. It unfairly targets foie gras and simultaneously lets other producers off the hook. This Spanish model makes sense and it sounds much healthier (figs and nuts? I’d probably gorge myself!), tastier and certainly more enjoyable for the goose while it is alive.

The CEO of the Humane Society recently blogged about the sci-fi type horrors happening to other animals for food: Genetic modification for rapid muscling that causes billions of animals to endure chronic pain from skeletal disorders that impair their ability to even walk. Turkeys are so top-heavy they are physically incapable of mating. Chickens suffer such explosive growth that they have to be starved lest they risk cardiac rupture. “Double-muscled” calves born into the beef industry grow so freakishly huge that they can only be extracted via Caesarian section. Some hens lay so many eggs that they risk a prolapse—laying her own uterus. And there are cows capable of generating ten times more milk than a calf could ever suckle.

The Humane Society of the United States does amazing work to raise awareness and put pressure on food producers to produce humanely in *this* country. I hope everyone supports them!

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Joanne of Open Mind Required October 23, 2009 at 6:10 AM

Wow. Those were great videos. I’m one of those people who condemned foie gras while knowing absolutely nothing about it. Ignorance is bliss, but it’s also stupid. Thanks for enlightening me.

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Tim Young October 27, 2009 at 7:24 AM

Dan’s right to be doing this. We’re doing the same thing in Georgia using heritage geese (Pilgrim, Pomeranian, Toulouse and African), planting figs, persimmons and forages that allow them to do what they do naturally.

Tim
Nature’s Harmony Farm

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Angela November 1, 2009 at 5:34 PM

Thanks for bringing up this important issue. I learned about this “free range” natural way of raising geese a couple of years ago and it’s great to hear that Dan Barber is working on offering this alternative.

I’m a big fan of the Real Food network and would love to have dinner with you all at the conference. Please be in touch.

Angela

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Natalia December 21, 2011 at 4:58 AM

You are by far the most unintelligent pro-foie gras person I have come across. “Force-fed” is exactly what is is, FORCE-FED… If the animal had the choice it would rather not suffer the side-effects of being force-fed and the pain of steatosis, the liver disease acquire from being over fed. If you can provide documented evidence or peer-reviewed research that states ducks would rather have enlarged livers than a normal healthy body than I will consider both sides more.

But your bias, misleading tone and your unscientific, tongue-in-cheek comments is so transparent. This video will only appeal to the uneducated masses that are devoid of any empathy and common sense. These ducks do not even live in free-range conditions, 10-15 ducks in a square metre pen is horrible… If these ducks were not in those squalor conditions it would be too difficult to catch them and force-feed them after they learn the cruel process that awaits them every day before they are slaughtered. This video is made even more ridiculous by the notion that this French chef loves animals only to be followed by a montage of her animal carcasses. Please provide the logic of how someone can both love an animal and fund the killing of animals at the same time.

Your professor claims ducks in the wild are more “stressed” than those in cramped, squalor conditions. PLEASE post this “study” of you promote, I would absolutely love to read it and see what correlations they discovered, the statistical significance of their results and how many subjects were used in the study and in how many areas of France they operated this study.

You are an educated American with access to information on the ethical standards for animals in the agricultural industry. I suggest you do a bit of research… this video is just embarrassingly uninformative.

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cheeseslave December 23, 2011 at 8:30 AM

@Natalia

Did you even read the post? The ducks LINE UP FOR IT.

Have you actually visited a foie gras farm? There are lots of them that DO let the geese roam outdoors for the majority of their lives.

I don’t think you even read the post or watched the videos since all the points you are bringing, I have addressed in the post.

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Carl Rosén December 17, 2012 at 6:38 AM

Do you actually believe that the geese line up to be force-fed?

You base that on anecdotal evidence from a biased source! That’s 1.01 what you shouldn’t do in making a case.

Of course a farmer who is selling foie gras says the geese like it. If he did otherwise he would lose sales.

Have you seen a video of geese lining up to be force-fed? The CEO of Sonoma Foie Gras made the same claim about geese lining up and he couldn’t produce a video or any other evidence. Please send a video in the comment section here if you have one!
http://iteamblog.abc7news.com/2012/02/ducks-want-to-be-force-fed.html

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Adrian Appley December 23, 2011 at 7:52 AM

If Dan Barber believes there is such a thing as humanely produced fois gras he is living in a dream world. There is nothing humane about it at all. Victims are eating diseased livers that are doing their system no good at all. Let us see how much longer he exists before succuming to an enormous heart attack or stroke. It is only a matter of time to which I will retort “HOORAY.”

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cheeseslave December 23, 2011 at 8:28 AM

Obviously you have not spent any time reading my blog. Saturated fat does not cause heart disease or stroke. Google “French Paradox”.

And the fact that you wish disease on anyone is very sad, indeed.

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Sarah December 23, 2011 at 2:22 PM

I’m not a animal rights activist or anything but it doesn’t take one to realise that saturated fat, trans fatty acids and meat are the biggest killers in the US at the moment. They have the highest rate of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, strokes… I watched both videos, just because animals are a source of food does not mean we should abuse them. The first video was incredibly bias, a really hopeless source of information. The second is revolutionary but it’s unhealthy. Eating the organ that filters toxins and has been artificially fattened on top of that is very unhealthy. If you’re going to eat foie gras, you have to accept that ethics is just not a priority… It’s purely fuelled for taste because you can get iron from many sources of food, vegetables or meat alike.

I don’t meant to be rude, but you’re article doesn’t make a lot of sense… Yeah.

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Rena Marrocco December 24, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Seriously? It’s not Foie Gras that’s killing Americans today but crappy fried foods and sugary drinks combined with a lack of activity. I’m not going to argue about the harms and benefits of saturated fats, but Foie Gras is very expensive and most people only eat it sparingly a few times a year. In fact, the entire idea behind this natural type of Foie Gras is that it is only harvested one time a year- thereby limiting the supply. And I agree that you should be ashamed of yourself cheering because other people are sick and dying.

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Rena Marrocco December 24, 2011 at 3:32 PM

Schlitz Goose Farm also sells this humane Fatty Goose liver which is delicious. And it’s cheaper than what you would pay for traditional Foie Gras.

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Simone March 7, 2013 at 7:45 AM

I live in france (im not french) and I can back up that that foie gras is eaten here (sparingly) pretty much exclusively around christmas time. thats not to say that its not around all year, nor that there arent those who will eat it at other times, but ordinary french folk eat it then, traditionally.
i have found the french naturally eat seasonally (without banging on about it or patting themselves on the back – its just natural and logical, something i really appreciate), and this timing makes sense, as this is when the livers traditionally would have been the fattest due to the birds preparing for migration.
im on the fence about whether the birds line up or not for the feeding, but to say point-blank that they wouldnt feels really ignorant to me… people are animals too (apparently the smartest ones), yet we smoke, do dangerous sports, eat fried “food”, and all in full knowledge of the risks we are exposed to. but somehow we think an animal wouldnt succumb to greed and excess..? i just cant logically agree with this statement. ive seen a dog who’d eated a box of salt crystals even though he kept vomitting, another eat a 12kg bag of food it managed to knock over, and up top is a comment about a cow eating itself to death… why wouldnt a bird?

love the idea of the spanish farmer getting the naturally fattened livers. i found this post while searching for humaine foie gras, so im going to look him up! thanks

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Dimidy January 23, 2014 at 7:19 PM

I LOVE this!!

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Alexis April 14, 2014 at 7:58 AM

I’m just curious…just like a factory cow, if this duck is force fed corn and grain, how is it then still healthy? The cla and other nutrients reduced tremendously just by the food they eat. How could duck still be healthy this way.?

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