Eduardo Sousa, a farmer in the Extremadura region of Spain is, according to chef Dan Barber, raising geese that bear the best foie gras the chef's tasted. The critical part of the story, though, is that Sousa does not force feed the geese. He apparently lets their inclination to gorge themselves, once required for migration, take care of the fattening and simply makes sure they have all they want—nuts, olives, etc., but no corn. This suggests of course that farmers who force feed their geese and ducks are simply controlling what the ducks would do naturally and that the folks who want to prohibit the production and sale of foie gras on the grounds of animal cruelty have one less leg to stand on.
I never thought they had any leg to stand on if they argued only that the practice of gavage were inhumane but were happy to buy boneless skinless chicken breast and beef tenderloin from America’s meat factories. The foie gras farms in the United States, notably Hudson Valley Foie Gras, tend to be models of humane, safe, small-scale farming. Here’s Bourdain’s excellent account of the no rez trip to the farm.
But Barber’s story (first reported last week in Lancaster Farming and which I read via A Hunger Artist), is a good one nevertheless. Barber said this foie gras was the best he’d ever eaten and that the experience was revelatory, “the best culinary experience of my life.” Repeat: the best culinary experience of his life. Are we likely to taste any of this at Blue Hill anytime soon? Not likely. When Barber asked about buying Sousa’s foie gras, Sousa, clearly a quirky farmer, replied, “Chef’s don’t deserve it.”
So enough with chefs banning foie from their meat-filled menus (clearly a marketing-driven decision, at best--and nothing wrong with that, but let's call it what it is), and enough with city counsel grandstanding and the like to legislate its ban (most recently defeated in Maryland). And thanks Dan Barber for another great story.
(Skawt's comment reminded me of this hilarious exercise in human discomfort and stupidity. thanks again to delgrosso.)
UPDATE: credit due
Dan Barber’s story was a originally part of broader talk last month at NYU’s Experimental Cuisine Collective on the connection between flavor and animal welfare, namely the idea that the better an animal is treated during its life and the less stress it endures at slaughter, the better the flavor it will have, a common sensical idea that may be impossible to prove. The Sousa story was one of his examples. Katherine Hobson wrote about Barber's talk in a US News & World Report blog and Joseph Erdos wrote about it on his blog.