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Sustainable Foie Gras

April 26, 2010

In my research for my paper about local food, I found two TED talks by a chef named Dan Barber. He is a chef from Manhattan who is at the forefront of the effort to introduce sustainable produce and meat into professional kitchens. In my paper I discuss his efforts to find truly sustainable fish in an era of over fishing and subpar fish farming practices. But today I wanted to tell you about his other search, for sustainable foie gras.

Foie gras is goose liver that for centuries has been harvested by force-feeding geese to enlarge their livers very quickly. Much like veal, foie gras has been controversial because of the conditions the animals go through. Also, the geese are typically force-fed corn or other grains, just like cattle in CAFOs here in America–the most calories in the least amount of time.

Barber found his way to a small farm in Spain run by a man named Eduardo Sousa. Sousa manages to profitable harvest foie gras by slaughtering geese at the end of fall, after they have naturally engorged themselves for the coming winter. And Sousa encourages a diverse diet of plants and grains by tending to many different species. However, he does not directly dictate their diets because he simply lets his geese run free. (Whether their wings are clipped or not was not mentioned, but I’d love to know).

Of particular note is that foie gras is typically a bright yellow, due to the typical diet the geese are force fed, perhaps lots of bright yellow corn. Sousa actually suffered because his foie gras was the gray of a healthy liver! But he chanced upon introducing a bright yellow flower into his farm that the geese gobbled up and it turned their livers a bright, almost radioactive yellow.

By encouraging the natural tendencies of his animals, Sousa has produced sustainable, delicious foie gras without any undue cruelty. His geese live out their lives eating and doing what they want, and in return Sousa sells, according to Barber, the finest foie gras in the world.

I leave you with two thoughts. First, Sousa mentions how wild geese will come and join his domesticated ones to mate instead of flying further south, because the food is so good. Second, Dan Barber now no longer serves foie gras, because he cannot justify to himself using force-fed goose liver and Sousa either cannot meet demand or will not ship across the Atlantic.

Check out the video here.

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