Foie gras is French for fatty liver — and, despite that rather unappealing description, it's been a gourmet delicacy for centuries. But now animals rights activists like Colleen Hatfield of Taylorsville are campaigning to get the item off restaurant menus, arguing that it is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese through a pipe shoved down their throats.

A month ago, Hatfield, who is a member of the Chicago-based group SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), sent letters to eight northern Utah restaurants she says serve foie gras, urging them to stop. Next weekend, she and other SHARK members plan to begin protesting at those restaurants that have not agreed to the request.

The letter, which called foie gras "this food of misery," was accompanied by a DVD Hatfield says was made by undercover investigators at the two U.S. farms that produce all the foie gras eaten in this country.

"If you could see it you would absolutely die," says Hatfield. The ducks and geese are force-fed grain three times a day, quickly becoming so fat they they can't walk, she says. "Sometimes the animals even explode."

According to the Web site, the animals' livers swell up to 10 times their normal size, and complications include pneumonia, lacerated tracheas and esophagi, and bacterial and fungal growth on the lining of the fowl's organs. "Unlike other food items, it is not possible to produce foie gras without engaging in animal cruelty and creating a pathological state in the animals," according to the site. "Nobody needs foie gras. It's only eaten by a few people, and its production and consumption represent egregious, gratuitous cruelty."

Foie gras is now banned in more than a dozen countries, and both California and Chicago have passed laws banning the delicacy, Hatfield says. In Utah, partly as a result of her letter-writing campaign, La Caille restaurant in Sandy has stopped selling foie gras.

Soaked in orange liqueur and seared with veal juice, the foie gras on La Caille's appetizer menu used to sell for $17.50. But after learning about foie gras production, says restaurant manager Laura Horton, "we started thinking about it and it wasn't worth it." Geese, she notes, actually live on the restaurant's premises, "and we couldn't support being mean to their cousins."

Horton describes foie gras as having a "creamy, buttery" texture. "It's kind of an acquired taste," she adds.

A couple of other restaurants sent Hatfield e-mails and letters that were a bit more cryptic. One said it had removed foie gras from its online menu, but Hatfield says she isn't sure it actually stopped serving the item; another restaurant sent her what seemed to be a form letter thanking her for her interest.

The eight restaurants pegged by SHARK's letter-writing campaign included La Caille, Metropolitan, Log Haven, The New Yorker, The Tree Room at Sundance, Mariposa at Deer Valley, and Chenez and Grappa in Park City.

SHARK will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. today at the Salt Lake City main library, 210 E. 400 South, conference room A.