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California's goose liver prohibition leads to 'duckeasies'

Published: Friday, July 20 2012 2:33 p.m. MDT

A Deinonychus dinosaur statue appears to be trying to eat a goose at Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden in 2006. A ban on foie gras has some Californians hungry for geese as well.

Edward Linsmier, Deseret News

SAN FRANCISCO — Being kind to your web-footed friends was behind California's recent ban on foie gras — the duck and goose liver delicacy created by force-feeding the fowl.

Animial activists call the practice a food of misery. "If you could see it, you would absolutely die," Colleen Hatfield said in a 2007 Deseret News article. The ducks and geese are force-fed grain three times a day, quickly becoming so fat they they can't walk, she said. "Sometimes the animals even explode."

But the bird's liver expands up to 10 times its normal size — becoming tastier and thoroughly gourmet.

A ban of foie gras (pronounced fwah-GRAH) was passed in 2007 in Chicago over the veto of Mayor Richard Daley, who, according to an Associated Press story, called it the "silliest" ordinance the city council ever passed.

California's ban has its roots eight years ago, according to an AP story: "The California Legislature gave the state's only producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, more than seven years to come up with a cruelty-free way to fatten the duck's liver when in 2004 it voted in the ban on producing and selling foie gras."

As the July 1 ban came closer, AP said there was a "feeding frenzy" of eating the fattened livers: "Chefs are loading their high-end menus with duck liver: terrine de foie gras, seared foie gras with mango chutney, foie gras salad and sweet foie gras for dessert: And they are keeping secret the locations of their multicourse dinners to avoid protesters."

But even though the ban has come to California, there are still a few restaurants offering the expensive treat. The San Francisco Chronicle reported: "Presidio Social Club is in San Francisco's Presidio, a national park under federal jurisdiction. That, according to the restaurant's management, makes it exempt from the state legislation that went into effect July 1 forbidding the sale of any product made from a force-fed bird." (Hat tip to the Consumerist for this link)

"We're not trying to exploit a loophole or out to break the law," Ray Tang, owner of the American-comfort-food-style restaurant, told the Chronicle. He said it just doesn't apply.

The Daily Democrat asked Presidio Social Club customer Karlene Bley to describe her feelings: "I've been waiting three weeks for this," she said.

Then she took a bite.

"Absolutely fabulous," she told the Daily Democrat. "It's creamy, it's lovely. It's liver, so of course it's very good for you."

Other restaurants are finding their own way around the bird liver ban. The Daily Democrat reported:

"Chefs at Hot's Kitchen in Los Angeles County and Chez TJ restaurant in Mountain View are serving foie gras as free side dishes, arguing that the ban does not explicitly prohibit distribution."

"It is legal," Joey Elenterio, a chef at Chez TJ restaurant told CBS news in San Francisco. "The law clearly states that selling and producing foie gras in the state of California is illegal. I don't see any ducks on our property. It's not on the menu. I'm not selling it. I'm not getting any profit from the foie gras. I'm simply giving it away as a gift from me."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on attempts to overturn the ban by duck and goose farmers: "A federal judge Wednesday denied a request to halt California's ban on the sale of foie gras, saying that until a lawsuit over the legislation's constitutionality is hashed out in court, the statute will stand."

Rob Black, a lawyer and executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, told the Chronicle that waiters and restaurant workers will lose $20 million a year in tips because of the ban. He said this is because foie gras is usually the most expensive item on the menu.

Bloomberg News reports on how the prohibition of the liver is creating an underground market similar to what happened when alcohol was banned by the 18th Amendment in the 1920s: "They paid $100 apiece for 'a 10-course tasting of quasi-legal goodness,' according to the online notice for the 'Duckeasy' event. Each received an email with the address only hours before the first sandwich of Wonder bread, grape jelly and foie gras mousse was served."

"I want to support the people who believe in foie and who will defy the rules," Jolanda Nuestro, 48, a homemaker, said according to Bloomberg.

A toast at the Duckeasy was offered: "To foie!"

Another guest then said: "To being force-fed foie!"

"I live in a state where I can buy marijuana down the street, but I can't buy foie gras," Sean Chaney, chef and owner at Hot's Kitchen, told Bloomberg. "There's something fundamentally wrong."

AP reported foie gras was banned in "a dozen countries including Israel, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

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