Last week New York’s City Council debated a potential ban on foie gras, a popular pâté that is made from fatty duck and goose livers. Proposed legislation would outlaw sale of the French delicacy—which is produced by force-feeding birds through a funnel—and fine rule-breakers up to $1,000 per violation.
The bill is supported by animal rights activists and was sponsored by Manhattan Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. “What I am trying to do is put forward a bill that would end this practice and create a more humane New York City to live in,” said Rivera during the council hearing.
Farmers and foie gras purveyors in Upstate New York oppose the ban, which they say would hurt their employees and is based on a flawed understanding of production methods. There are only three farms raising foie gras in the U.S. Ariane Daguin, founder of the foie gras distribution company D’Artagnan, wrote in an op-ed countering the bill.
“Foie gras production is humane and in the mainstream of animal agriculture,” she wrote. “It is produced by force-feeding a duck via a funnel-like device called a ‘gavage’ in order to fatten its liver … With the use of an artisanal hand-feeding method, the ducks are not harmed because they are physiologically able to gorge themselves and store food in just this manner. In nature, ducks naturally fatten their livers in preparation for migration … If humane treatment is the issue here, we should be looking at factory-farm practices first.”
In New York, foie gras is a requisite component of upscale menus from Eleven Madison Park to the Le Coucou. You can order it chilled and drizzled with jam, seared on a burger, stuffed into ravioli and melded into caramels. And while chefs have embraced the controversial ingredient for decades, many are not ready to bid it adieu.
Chefs Nahid Ahmed and Arjuna Bull are preparing to open the globally focused restaurant Luthun in the East Village this summer.
“We’re both opposed to the ban,” Bull said. “It’s quite an exquisite ingredient. We love to eat it, we love to work with it. It’s so versatile. All the chefs we know are opposed to [the ban].”
Ahmed says he has tried to replicate the flavor and unctuousness of foie gras before, experimenting with chicken livers, but it could never touch the original. He believes there are dishes that chefs would never be able to make in the city again. He also thinks the ban would deter chefs, especially those from France or who are French-trained, from working in New York because they have been using that ingredient in their cuisine for a very long time.
After more than a decade of wrangling, California’s on-again, off-again foie gras ban went fully into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal against the ban in January. Foie gras had to be removed from all menus on up and down the Golden State.
“I just never thought it would happen in New York,” Ahmed said.
The legislation to ban foie gras in New York has been heard by the City Council’s Health Committee, so it is now up to the discretion of the committee chairman, Councilman Mark Levine, to move the bill forward. He could push the bill out as-is and present it before the entire City Council for a vote as early as next week. Or he could request the bill be amended and return it to the committee for further debate.
According to a spokesperson for Councilwoman Rivera’s office, there is no timeline for when the bill could be voted on. There is not yet a movement from chefs in New York to formally oppose the ban.