Foie gras

A very famous Canadian has been making headlines in France this week. Pamela Anderson, ex-‘BabeWatch’ star and future Brigitte Bardot, has brought the sad plight of the geese and ducks of southwest France to the attention of l’Assemblée Nationale.

Some wag on a talk show joked that it was the first time in the history of parliament that all of its members showed up.

I first heard about le foie gras from my then-future husband, who regaled me with tales of his best-loved French foods. It came just after oysters and raw-milk cheese. I reacted like a typical North American.

“Fwah grah? What’s that?” I asked, making a face. “Fat liver?” He explained that duck or goose liver – paté as we English speakers insist on calling it – was considered a fine delicacy in France. “But don’t they force feed the geese?” He shrugged, muttering something about gastronomic tradition.

When it came time to taste my first foie gras, at table with his parents during a fancy dinner, I did so with a relatively open mind. By then I had experienced enough good French food to trust them when they said something was good. As tastes and textures went, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I developed a minor appreciation for the stuff, accompanied by toasted brioche and a sweeter white wine.

You cannot live in France without making certain value adjustments. Over the years my attitude on many subjects has adapted, from the time I first ate rabbit to raw meat and runny cheese. When it comes to foie gras I am on the fence.

Eating meat of any kind for me requires a sliding moral scale. I am opposed to cruelty in general and the factory farming of animals horrifies me. I shudder when I see the way our poor pigs are transported to slaughter, and at the thought of chickens in cages or of any animal that doesn’t see the light of day. When you look at the traditional production of foie gras, is it any more cruel than those practices?

Our daughter, who is studying to become a veterinarian, gave us a bit of a tongue lashing for serving foie gras over the holidays. So I think we will be giving it a miss in the future. And to be honest, it will be no great sacrifice. In fact, if I may make a small confession, one that will forever brand me as being decidedly un-French, I find myself increasingly enjoying the pleasures of a more plant-based diet. I still eat meat, along with cheese and eggs, but not as often and in smaller quantities.

The French mostly turn a deaf ear to the pleas of animal rights activists. They are more concerned about cultural traditions, gastronomy and jobs. This is not a particularly vegetarian-friendly culture, although the variety and quality of locally sourced fresh produce makes it entirely possible to pursue such choices here.

Foie gras is a delicacy that I can quite happily live without. I think my own foie will thank me. Not to mention a few hundred ducks.

What about you? Do you eat foie gras or consider it off limits?

44 thoughts on “Foie gras

  1. You are right about the cruelty involved in the production of many foods, and I think you are right to have a ‘sliding scale’. Personally I cannot eat chicken or shop-bought eggs either, as we have chicks ourselves and they are such brave beautiful creatures that battery farming is unthinkable. If I trusted that free range eggs and chicken were as they claim to be, I would eat them, but there are some shocking conditions out there. I, like you, eat less and less meat in general as I grow older, but ironically I love a blue steak, a steak tartare or a fillet americain too much to give up entirely

    1. Interesting perspective! I always try to buy chicken and eggs that say ‘élevé en liberté’ while hoping it is not just marketing hype. I remember watching a report that showed how ‘plein air’ just meant they had to have a door open somewhere. Horrible. I think with meat it is both healthier and better for all concerned to keep enjoying it but as a garnish or even as a treat – sort of like we used to do with sweets. And local is definitely better!

  2. First of all I must holla out my respect for Pammy (cleverly styled to affect more than a little BB). Secondly, I am a meat eater but not a chest-beating carnivore. I am very fussy about how and where my meat and indeed eggs are reared and it is very easy living in Cantal to be certain of the provenance of meat – it’s rearing and it’s slaughter. I would rather go without than risk putting money into the pockets of those that ill-treat animals and birds. And indeed, I am fortunate because I can eat foie-gras which has been reared on a farm, the birds only coming indoors for gavage in the last few days of their lives. Not ideal but at least, like the veal calves that live their short lives with mums and dads and other little calves in the fields around us, they have something of a life. The sad fact is that if these animals and birds were not meat-providers they would not exist. That is the base selfishness of humankind. There would be no flocks of white ducks and geese flying overhead and there would be no herds of pink piggies running free in the woods. So, like you, I am a bit of a fence sitter but I try to be the most ethical fence-sitter that I can. My husband, incidentally says that foie-gras is the only reason to ever drink Rosé 😉

    1. Great points! Guess that’s why we call them ‘domestic animals’. Which absolutely does not justify cruelty. Of course, in France, unless you happen to live in agricultural heaven in the Cantal, you are stuck asking the butcher questions like, ‘Did that pig have some sort of a life?’ and come across as a complete lunatic, ha ha! Your reasoning is sound, Osyth, and I am with you on everything but the rosé. Summer sipping demands it! As for Ms. Anderson, she has rather a lot of meat for a vegan.

      1. My butcher thinks I’m a complete nutter and humours me beautifully! Pigs are generally appallingly badly treated in France (I might even start a campaign but I fear it wouldn’t gather much steam) … as for rosé I’m with you – and happily sup it on a hot day in summer. As for bigot brains, he can leave it with pleasure – more for me that way 😉

      2. I totally agree with Miss Osyth… 🙂
        * * *
        @”ex-‘BabeWatch’ star and future Brigitte Bardot” – with one huge exception: BéBé has been “naturelle” – no face-lift, no botox, no silicone anywhere… 😉 and she’s a living legend, an icon like LA Monroe… 🙂

      3. I always agree with the lovely Miss Osyth! And you are right – BB does not get enough credit for her authenticity. Not so sure about Pammy. 😉

      1. Bien sûr!!
        Two Brains can have river water if he prefers ( I do wish you would give him his given name, or is his anonymity sacrpsanct and would they laugh at him at work if a colleague read your blog!
        Frankly I’m amazed that Trev have colleagues my blog details as he is not lways painted in the rosiest hues in my candid ‘fess ups

      2. OMG,”sacrosanct”, “that Trev has given colleagues ………….”always”
        this B****Y computer!!! shall I just rewrite it?, or Mel just edit some sense into my ramblings

      3. Several of his colleagues read the blog so that isn’t an issue – he’s a great advocate which is sweet of him since I sometimes laugh at his expense. I just prefer not to use his name because his nickname feels more comfortable in this forum. All that said, he is not a fan of Social Media or internet footprints and when I first met him there were no pictures of him on the net at all. If you googled him you got pictures of one or other of his arrays somewhere on the globe. There is sense in his reluctance and I imagine our grandchildren may well be saying ‘they did WHAT … what on earth were they thinking!’ He does drink the pink stuff by the way but like bubbles it’s not his preference 🙂

      4. I do understand, and I don’t blame him for avoiding an internet profile.
        Trev has none at all. I only started twitter because my son persuaded me it would augment the blog!
        If anyone googles me the links to the blog is all they get, apart from an article in the press relating to my work which not only misquoted me, but I refused to speak to them anyway! Gits!

        What does he like anyway? Our local mineral water is lovely!

      5. Evil gits the press – don’t get me started! He generally drinks red but will stray to a good vigonier or picpoul de pinet in summer. He wants to grow vines and make the stuff such is his devotion to the grape!

      6. Oh, and to avoid clogging up poor Mel’s comment box , we like a good red too . And Viognier and Picpoul de pinet are my VERY FAVOURITEST whites, honestly, I’m drinking PdeP now!

      7. All right, young ladies, next time please take the private talk out in the hall, or over to Facebook! Ha, ha….no worries, but this whole conversation is one of the mysteries of WordPress – I can see it in my comments bar but not on my blog. Tant mieux! 🙂

      1. Indeed that is, of course the classic pairing. My husband’s flippant point though is not that you should eat Foie Gras with Rosé but that Foie Gras was the only thing that would convince him to drink it – he’s not a fan of the pink but does enjoy the FG 🙂

  3. I can live without foie gras, too. We try to eat as humanely and organically as we can. I hate seeing a live rabbit bundled into someone’s shopping bag in a French market, and don’t get me started on the things I saw in China. Too much Beatrix Potter as a child, I suspect.

    1. I’ve never seen a live rabbit at the market (Dieu soit loué!) but once saw a live chicken half-jokingly wrapped in a piece of newspaper when passed to the buyer. And thanks for not sharing the China stuff. I still close my eyes during the violent bits in films. 😉

  4. I’ve tried it once, but not since. My mind recalls the process and I just shudder at what we do to animals to achieve a desired outcome. I have never had veal…

    Often I’ve made the switch to full vego – but my partner eats meat and it’s hard to resist when the smell of bacon is wafting around. It’s my kryptonite.

    1. Love the way you describe bacon! It’s one of the reasons I refuse to call myself a veg-anything. I’ve eaten veal but prefer not to. Lamb is another story….

  5. OK my views
    I haven’t yet eaten foie-gras, but if I was offered it as part of a meal lovingly and thoughtfully prepared by French hosts, of course I would. That’s basically a respect for a culture, not a lifestyle choice.
    I am picky about the meat I eat ( many years in the catering business) and I was veggie for many years but I eat it because my anaemia makes meat consumption borderline essential for my health. Damn difficult on a veggie diet and neat impossible on a vegan one ( my opinion,wait for the naysayers)
    My particular perspective is that I will only eat meat prepared at home with provenance or by friends or restaurant chefs I can trust, so I often end up with the veggie option when I eat out.

    1. I totally agree and share your respect for culture. That is exactly the whole thing for me – we make choices based on our cultural context. Although I do strive not harm animals by those choices wherever possible. It’s a 50 shades of grey thing (without the S+M overtones, ha ha!) I get that anemia could be a real issue and animal protein is still a more readily absorbed source of iron. So many factors to balance out. The rosé must help! 😉

      1. We would only refuse something if violently allergic to it! Personally I always ask when hosting meals if the guest cannot/will not eat any particular food, but as the French eat virtually everything it seems, I would not expect our French friends to let us have a hand in any of their menus!

        I would have missed out on som ereal treats if I had been picky and my mind is ever open (and leaking marbles)

  6. Hmmm…Don’t know if I should admit, but I love foie gras. It’s a “special occasion” thing, of course, but honestly I think factory farming of chickens and other poultry is far worse. In fact, I have all but stopped eating chicken because it’s nearly impossible to find one that has been raised on a “real” farm these days. We did have a “heritage” turkey this year for Thanksgiving but that was not easy to get! I buy beef and pork from local farmers where I know how it’s been raised and treated and fed. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    1. Glad it spoke to you! One thing we pride ourselves on in this country is not judging people on the enjoyment of good food. I think if I truly enjoyed foie gras I would be less willing to take it off the menu but for me it will be a small sacrifice. Thanks for sharing your point of view!

  7. Foie gras non. Just a decision I made a long time ago after hearing how the birds were force fed.. It’s not put me off meat though and I still love my roast beef.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    1. Ah, David, you are true to the French image of ‘Les Rosbifs’! 😉 It really comes down to what matters most to each of us. I can happily live without roast beef and foie gras but please don’t get between me and my beer! Bises xo

  8. Never being a fan of the the texture of pate, I have never been too fussed about trying foie gras. The questionable morality of force feeding doesn’t sit well with me and it’s all very tricky. Where do you draw the line? I saw a tv show last night where Kobe cattle were being fed beer and being massaged (to increase the marbling of the fat). They looked so beautiful but they were about to go to slaughter. It made me question my meat eating once more. I don’t eat much at all and try to make more ‘ethical’ choices. Bacon and good seafood would make it hard for me to go back to being a vegetarian again. Great post Mel and a really interesting discussion.

    1. Thanks, Lisa, for your thoughtful input! It is heartening to know that so many people I respect also struggle with the issues.. At least we can be conscious carnivores, so that if we do eat meat, we do it with intention. As for the Kobe cattle, I take comfort in knowing they at least get to enjoy beer. 😉

  9. She’s even starting to look a little like Bardot. Non…no foie gras for me. I’m not a militant vegetarian…I don’t eat meat, only fish, but even if I ate meat, no way for foie gras. Or rabbits. Few animals that are raised as meat are treated humanely.

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