Foie Gras is a Traditional Food

by Ann Marie Michaels on July 6, 2013

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Whenever I write about foie gras, people get upset. Getting upset is natural when you are ignorant of facts.

There are so many myths about foie gras production. People think the animals are harmed and that foie gras is not traditional.

But, in reality, foie gras is a traditional food. In fact, foie gras is a natural process that happens in the wild.

Foie Gras is a Traditional Food

In this article in The Atlantic, Hank Shaw explains that foie gras is “a natural phenomenon in wild ducks, not about the 4,500-year-old practice of fattening the livers of domestic geese.” (Source: Ethical Foie Gras: No Force-Feeding Necessary)

Shaw writes:

“Under certain circumstances, wild ducks and geese will indeed gorge themselves far beyond their normal nutritional needs, to the point where they develop a fat layer comparable to that seen on a domestic duck, loads of fat around their gizzards and guts—and, most importantly, livers that develop into the lovely wobbly bit you see at left in the picture. Doctors call the condition steatosis, in which liver cells accumulate lipids. I call it yummy.”

A Time for Foie from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Photo credit: JanetandPhil on Flickr

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle July 6, 2013 at 12:31 PM

” Getting upset is natural when you are ignorant of facts.”

The fact remains that the vast amount of foie gras consumed today DOES indeed come from ducks and geese that are manually forcefed. It’s a wildly controversial food. I would feel differently if all foie gras was naturally produced, but that’s simply not the case. I guess I don’t understand the point that you’re trying to make here?


Sharon Lee July 7, 2013 at 6:15 AM

I tend to agree with Danielle. The problem is that there is a massive amount of foie gras consumed today are being manually forced-fed, including harming the ducks/geese forcing tubes down their throats, sometimes too forceful causing to tear holes in their throats. This is extreme animal abuse.


Jeanmarie July 8, 2013 at 9:45 AM

I used to think so too until I watched the videos and read the information presented here (I read up on this last year). In nature, ducks and geese swallow big fish in the wild. See it on the videos. They do not have the human gag reflex, so in this case imagining what it would feel like to have a food tube in your throat is misleading. Of course, anything can be done improperly, so you’d want to make sure your source knew what they were doing. I absolutely think this can and generally is done ethically.


Emily September 17, 2013 at 12:10 PM

What part of anything you’ve read on this blog makes you think her defense of a food means she’s in favor of modern food production methods?


IC July 6, 2013 at 5:00 PM

” Getting upset is natural when you are ignorant of facts.”

I wish that were true – if so, we wouldn’t have GMOs or poly pharmacy as a norm. When it comes to food in the US, ignorance is bliss is more fitting.


Paula July 6, 2013 at 8:43 PM

It happens naturally two times per year, in perpetration for flying south for the winter, and then north for the summer. The fat is burned away in that flight of what is often thousands of miles.


me July 7, 2013 at 4:37 AM

“People think the animals are harmed . . .”

I feel confident that the animals are harmed when the liver is removed, so I don’t understand how people are ignorant in terms of this fact.


Jeanmarie July 8, 2013 at 10:03 AM

The animals are slaughtered before the liver is removed, of course. No different from harvesting any other animal for food. The key is to do it humanely, as painlessly as possible.


Jennifer July 7, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Foie gras might be a traditional food, I think the issue most have is how and when it is harvested. Please watch the Perennial Plate video. The farmers is an amazing man who is going against the grain in how he raises the geese he harvests.

While you are at it watch all The Perennial Plate videos- they do amazing work!


Molly July 7, 2013 at 9:19 AM

What is the name of this company that produces foi gras? Do you know of any other companies or sources for this food that use traditional methods?


Laura July 8, 2013 at 7:53 AM

Very few farms practice “humane” methods of fattening the geese. And the product, to a gourmand, is inferior. So the majority of foie gras is most definitely cruel. I’ve watched videos of how they feed the geese, and it looks anything but pleasant for the animals. I’ve never eaten it. I’m sure it’s delicious. It’s also completely out of my price range, humane or not. However, due to budget, I sometimes eat factory-farmed meat, so I guess I am being a bit hypocritical. The difference is, I feel, that foie gras is and always has been a luxury product.


Jeanmarie July 8, 2013 at 10:04 AM

The best way to help change that is to patronize the companies that do treat their geese humanely, and to contact others who do not and put pressure on them.


Faith July 8, 2013 at 1:27 PM

I suppose if you can find a restaurant that sources its foie from that Spanish producer who does so without force-feeding (at what I’m sure is a pretty penny) or you luck into a foie while hunting, then there really isn’t an issue with the foie. But that’s a distinction this post is completely lacking. Ordering foie at a restaurant without knowing the source is 100% ethical just perpetuates the demand for the force-fed fowl, and while it may be 4500 years old, and therefore “traditional”, doesn’t mean it’s “okay”. Just like treatment in slaughterhouses before Temple Grandin’s ground-breaking work might have involved cattle fed appropriate foods – doesn’t mean the stressful and dangerous environments at slaughterhouses was (or is, for those who have not yet adapted their systems) “okay”.


Leanne Overlander July 10, 2013 at 6:15 AM

I would love a listing of those companies that provide ethically raised geese who sell Foie gras.


Kyla July 17, 2013 at 2:42 PM

I don’t know…just because they gorge themselves in nature occasionally and don’t have a gag reflex doesn’t make manually shoving a tube down their throats and force feeding them any more humane, in my opinion.

But, that’s just me. I personally wouldn’t eat it.


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