Fowl play? Battle over serving duck delicacy leads to protests in Utah

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Chef Zane Holmquist at the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City says he'll continue to serve foie gras.

Stein Eriksen Lodge

A gourmet dish many Americans haven't tasted — or can't even pronounce — has sparked controversy between animal-rights activists and restaurants.

Foie gras, pronounced fwah grawh (French for "fatty liver"), is the liver of ducks or geese. In France, where roughly 80 percent of the foie gras is produced, it's considered a delicacy. In America, it's become the subject of protests, lawsuits, bans, vandalism and bickering among celebrity chefs.

The issue has come to roost in Utah, where a group called Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) plans to picket several Park City restaurants during the Sundance Film Festival. The group has campaigned for the past six months to get it off Utah menus, saying the force-feeding method — called gavage — used to fatten the duck's liver is inhumane.

During the last few weeks of the duck's life, a metal tube is inserted down the duck's throat two or three times a day, and corn is poured directly into the bird's esophagus. SHARK and other animal rights groups say this can cause lacerations or organ rupture, the ducks become so obese they can't move, and the resulting fatty liver is diseased and shouldn't be eaten.

"Sundance would be one of the better times to protest because there's a lot of people available to see it," said Colleen Hatfield, SHARK's regional director, in a telephone interview from her home in Taylorsville.

Protests and pressure

The group's last major target was The Metropolitan in downtown Salt Lake City, where SHARK members protested weekly for several months, until New Year's Eve, when owner Karen Olson took foie gras off the menu.

"I was afraid someone would get hurt," she said. "Things had escalated from people going around with signs and banners, to vandalism and criminal behavior. At some point, when my building is getting destroyed, I have to make the call."

Police reports confirm that during the past few months, red paint was thrown on the restaurant and the gas main was shut off. Near midnight on Christmas Eve, the large front picture window was shattered.

Hatfield said her group wasn't involved in the vandalism. "If I knew who did that I would turn them into the police. Those involved with this campaign are totally nonviolent people."

In the past few years, similar vandalism has occurred at restaurants serving foie gras in Austin, Texas; Sonoma, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Chicago; and New York City. In Philadelphia, a number of chefs pledged to stop serving it after animal-rights activists protested at both their restaurants and homes.

When contacted by the Deseret Morning News, several Salt Lake and Park City chefs declined to be interviewed about foie gras for fear of being targeted by animal-rights groups — even though it was already off their menus.

But Zane Holmquist said he won't bow to protest pressure. At the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City he sells "hundreds of pounds" of foie gras, he said in a telephone interview, calling it "one of the tastiest things in the world."

"They can protest all they want, and I'll be happy to chat with them about it," he said. "I do a lot of work with charities, and I find it horrible that people waste their energy worrying about what other people eat, when there are children going hungry in our state. If a restaurant serves something you don't like, don't go there or don't order it. I've been to the foie gras farm, and the geese are fine about it. They don't mind getting fat."

Jean Louis Montecot said his Park City restaurant, Jean Louis, hasn't yet been picketed, but he witnessed similar demonstrations as a chef in New York City.