Traveling the world through cuisine

So I tried foie gras

Pâté at Les Deux Gamins
Pâté at Les Deux Gamins

Zuzana and I just returned from a five-day getaway in beautiful Montreal. We saw the sights, celebrated Zuzana’s birthday, and ate princely. If you follow us on Instagram, you would have seen the dishes we consumed such as duck confit, crepes with rabbit, many good baguettes, quality coffee, and even sweets from a local patisserie. Unfortunately, I could not bring my stomach to try poutine. Another time.

One of the most interesting dishes we tried was the controversial foie gras (“fwah grah”). For those who don’t know, foie gras is a French delicacy of fattened goose liver. Many will serve it like a pâté with good bread and fruit, but chefs around the globe have used foie gras in a myriad of dishes...from elegant dining to new forms of street food.

What makes foie gras controversial is in its production. Farmers will use a process called gavage, which is to force-feed a mixture of corn (sometimes mixed with fats) into adult-aged geese. Animal rights activists have called it cruel, while chefs and producers of foie gras claim otherwise.

I’m not about to take a solid stance, as you notice I never talk about organic versus inorganic, or the debate over genetically modified food. However, I wanted to approach the subject from a few viewpoints to help you make your own decision. I won’t presume to preach on what you should or should not put into your body.

The experience as a foodie

The restaurant that served us, Les Deux Gamins, stuffed their foie gras with grapes and small orange berries called sea buckthorns. A fig confit was added with sides of baguette and fresh grapes.

I’ve tried several pâtés in my life, even making my own at home. I’ll tell you, none of them compare in flavor to what foie gras tasted like. The foie gras had a fatty buttery flavor that was quite smooth. Not the usual “heavier” taste you would see in chicken livers. It’s quite solid and firm, but yet breaks apart easily as you try to spread it on the baguette.

I can see why it’s so coveted by many foodies, cooks, and chefs.

The concern about production methods

Now I won’t sit here and completely dismiss the concerns of animal rights activists. The thought of having a tube pushed down your throat and then feed pushed into your stomach does seem frightening. However, one has to remember that geese and humans are not the same.

According to experts, an adult goose could actually swallow down a whole cob of corn, while we humans would choke on such an endeavour due to our anatomy and gag reflex. It’s also been shown how many geese will feed up on calories before migration.

Still, the gavage method used does make one question if a goose would feed up in that particular amount before migration. Some farms will forego this method and only allow the geese to fatten up naturally, however, the force-feeding method is more widely used, and even shown to be a long tradition.

In all honestly, I can’t judge on gavage because I am not a goose, nor an expert on one. However, what I could judge and even agree with animal rights activists on are the conditions of SOME of the foie gras farms. It’s one thing when you see a nice free-range goose farm in France, where the birds are given a happy, comfortable life before slaughter, but another to see some “factory” of a farm where the geese are trapped in cages and given a miserable life as a product, rather than a living creature.

Still, one can’t just single out the foie gras farms. I know activists and vegans will point out the conditions of many beef, pork, poultry, and fish farms; yet many will ignorantly focus on foie gras farms while ignoring other meat-producing arenas.

My conclusions

I will say as a foodie, I thoroughly enjoyed my foie gras experience, and I honestly think if you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, then you should try it at least once in your life. Forget the potential of bad karma, just try it so you can have at least experienced it. I’d suggest trying it in the same vain I did, as a pâté. While I commend the imagination of some chefs, don’t make your first foie gras experience that of a sausage or french fries.

The concern about foie gras production is notable, but I’d rather leave that to the passionate activists who will point out those bad farms and hopefully deter both chef and foodie from supporting them. However, don’t persecute the good ethical farms. If we want to achieve a dream of artisan-produced food overtaking factory-produced, then we need to praise those who do things right rather than vilifying them all.

If anything, bear in mind that foie gras is an expensive luxury. As much as I enjoyed trying it, I don’t see myself rushing to the store to buy it. Maybe the wealthy can afford to eat it regularly, but most of us would only end up trying it once to a few times in our lives. I don’t carry much guilt on trying foie gras, but see it simply as a check mark on a figurative list of food experiences I wanted in my life. Lord knows there are plenty of affordable ways to make a pâté that doesn’t use foie gras.

What do you think? Would you ever try foie gras? Have you ever tried it?

Tags: French, foie gras, pate, controversey

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