What Top Chefs Really Think of the New York City Foie Gras Ban
Last week, New York City Council passed legislation to ban the sale of foie gras in the city, a move that will affect about 1,000 restaurants that have the delicacy on their menu, as well as the farms that supply them.
The law was passed because of animal cruelty concerns over the treatment of geese and ducks whose fattened livers become foie gras. The traditional way of making foie gras or fattened liver is gavage, the forced feeding of ducks or geese. Carlina Rivera, a Manhattan councilwoman who sponsored the foie gras legislation, told the New York Times that her bill "tackles the most inhumane process" in the food industry. She called gavage "one of the most violent practices."
Ariane Daguin, the CEO and founder of the foie gras supplier D'Artagnan, says that is incorrect. Like many farmers and others in the industry, she argues that the practice is not, in fact, cruel.
"The premise of this legislation that the process is inhumane is not supported by fact or research—NOT ONE Council member has made any effort to learn about this process and all have refused to visit the farms to understand the process first-hand," Daguin, whose annual foie gras sales to New York chefs amount to $15 million (about 10 percent of the business), said in a statement to Town & Country.
"A New York City foie gras ban will cost more than 400 immigrant workers their jobs and chance at the American dream," Daguin said. "If humane treatment is truly the issue here, we should be looking at factory-farm practices first before we shut down small farms."
John Winterman, a co-owner of Bâtard in Tribeca, who is opening a brasserie tentatively named Francie in Williamsburg next year, says the foie gras debate is "a continuing battle because it's a misunderstood product."
"A lot of the weapons the anti-foie gras groups use are outdated videos, and that's not the way things are done, especially at a lot of the farms in this country," Winterman said. "If the farms were really treating their animals poorly, they wouldn't be in business because it's important for chefs to be ethical."
Le Coucou's chef and partner Daniel Rose agrees. "I love foie gras," Rose told T&C. "At the same time, I believe that using it requires some understanding of where it comes from, how it is made, and that there should absolutely be some minimum quality involved in its production—as there should be for all food. The free market will inevitably try to produce everything for less and whether it is vitamins or ducks, something will suffer on the way if left to the pressure of the market to produce less expensive food."
"Can we say that feeding people high-fructose corn syrup, food dyes, excessive amounts of salt, pesticides, or other additives cause less suffering than the production of foie gras?" he asked rhetorically. "What about the production of low-cost chickens and other animals? I don’t know, but I don’t think we have asked all of the meaningful questions and considered enough opinions to start banning individual food items without core principals and processes guiding our decisions."
Rose said that "if banning foie gras in New York generates a conversation about the state of food in America and the treatment of animals in general then I’m all for it." He will have to change some of his menu at Le Coucou when the ban takes effect but added that "there is certainly enough depth in the French repertoire to cook without it."
Other chefs were more vocal in their opposition.
"This is idiocracy," Momofuku chef David Chang tweeted. "Stupid short-sighted and a misunderstanding of the situation."
This is Idiocracy...fucking fuck https://t.co/DUwl2a7hHw— Dave Chang (@davidchang) October 30, 2019
Ken Oringer, a James Beard Award-winning chef and co-owner at Toro in Manhattan, called the ban "ridiculous." Oringer told the Associated Press that he had been to the farms in upstate New York that produce foie gras "and they operate with the utmost integrity to their farm animals."
"Food choice is everything and the beauty of our country is that we can make the choice to eat what we want to eat," Oringer added.
Other cities and states have passed—and repealed—similar legislation. In 2006, Chicago became the first American city to pass a foie gras ban. Two years later, the city's mayor, Richard M. Daley, called it the "silliest" law the city had ever passed and successfully led an effort to have the ban overturned.
California banned foie gras in 2012. It was overturned in 2015 but a federal appeals court reinstated it in 2017. This past January, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge, allowing the prohibition to take effect.
Perhaps the legislative turmoil is a sign of what's to come in New York. Winterman, for one, is not convinced the ban will take effect. "A lot can happen in three years," he said. He plans to include foie gras on his new restaurant's menu.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com<>*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors