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A Paris Chef Created a Vegan Foie Gras, and Now It’s Paying Off Thanks to Bird Flu

French foie shortages may leave room for "faux gras" to gain a foothold.

Vegan foie gras spread Getty Images/iStockphoto

The French love their foie gras year-round, but right now is when they really indulge. Le Réveillon is a Christmas Eve celebration in France where people come home from Midnight Mass and share a decadent meal of oysters, escargot, roasted fowl, lobster and foie gras. But shortages in the latter means people are getting creative with their pâté this year.

Typically made of duck or goose livers, foie gras is being reimagined into vegan and animal-friendly versions lately due to a severe bird flu outbreak. As cases of avian influenza in wild birds continue to surge, the food industry’s stock of the beloved hors d’oeuvre has been cut short. Chefs like Fabien Borge of 42 Degrees, a vegan restaurant in Paris, is selling a “faux gras” to fill the void while also not requiring birds to be force fed to make.

Borgel’s take on the French delicacy contains plant-based ingredients like cashew nuts, as well as sunflower and coconut oil. The combined result appears similar to traditional foie gras, but has a creamier texture. Nuts tend to be a common denominator in other foie gras variations, as well as mushrooms and a number of herbs. The best part of all, to some, may be that vegan alternatives contain less fat—making them healthier than most traditional offerings. 

France is currently the largest foie gras producer. Unfortunately, its output is expected to fall between 30 percent and 35 percent from last year since bird flu has devastated duck flocks in most of Europe, Reuters reports. Producer group CIFOG also claims that prices for the delicacy could rise roughly 20 percent due to the drop in supply, combined with soaring backend costs. “It could make some people want to try something else,” Borgel told Reuters. “It could be an opportunity.”

Foie gras is notably classified as part of the “cultural and gastronomic heritage” of France. Some countries as well has California and New York City have voted to ban the product because of animal welfare concerns. According to PETA, 2.2 pounds of grain and fat are “pumped” into the stomachs of male ducks twice a day and up to three times a day with geese. The force feeding causes their stomachs to swell up to 10 times to normal size, leaving the birds incapable of standing and under duress. 

Yet and still, a poll released by French foie gras producers on Wednesday showed 77 percent of domestic consumers were not ready to switch from the original to one made from plant-based products. That’s not stopping French companies from trying. For instance Gourmey is currently working on a lab-grown version, taking in millions in funding to develop it. That’s not quite ready yet, so in the meantime Borgel sees potential in vegan alternatives that not only bypasses force feeding animals, but also appeals to those who enjoy a refreshing spin on an old classic.

“You have people that have never tasted foie gras and will never taste it and they want something festive for the year-end parties. Others want to change the way they eat and are heading towards alternatives,” Borgel says. “There is room for everyone.”

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