Foie gras, made from the fattened liver of ducks or geese, is a world-renowned delicacy from French cuisine. Similar dishes have their roots as far back as ancient Egypt. Foie gras is known for its rich yet delicate flavor and buttery texture -- aficionados say there's nothing else quite like it. It's also unique for the strength of the backlash it brings with it.
Ducks have their livers fattened for foie gras -- often to 10 times their normal size -- by being force-fed corn using a metal tube known as a gavage. Animal rights groups and others assert that this practice amounts to exceptional animal cruelty, and concern over the effects of gavage has led to consumer boycotts and legal bans of foie gras around the world.
Now, the foie fight is coming to Minneapolis. On Saturday, June 22, a group of activists from the Minneapolis-based Animal Rights Coalition's "Forego Foie Gras" campaign will stage a protest outside of chef Isaac Becker's 112 Eatery during peak dinner hours. They hope to use the restaurant -- known for its tagliatelle pasta with foie gras meatballs--as a stage to reach as many Minneapolis diners as possible.
The Animal Rights Coalition (ARC) ultimately "seek[s] to abolish the use and exploitation of animals for human interests." They have been running a campaign against foie gras in the Twin Cities since 2011, polling diners and reaching out to restaurants.
Sarahjane Blum is one of the lead organizers for "Forego Foie Gras." She feels that the more people know about the dish, the less they like it.
"Foie gras is a delicacy that the more people know about, the less likely they are to support it," she said.
The campaign so far has focused on consumers, using public pledges from restaurants like Bryant Lake Bowl and informational campaigns. Blum says their goal is to change the way diners in Minnesota think about fois gras, and to give them the opportunity to make "a compassionate choice."
"This is how you tell people that they have a say -- that they can vote with their dollar," Blum said.
Blum eventually wants Minnesota to be a foie-free state, but "not, ideally, from legislation from on high, but from consumers choosing not to support it."
The group chose to target 112 Eatery because they see the Chef Isaac Becker as a promoter of foie gras since his restaurants feature the ingredient on their menus.
Blum expects the protest to be fairly straight-forward and informational, but doesn't rule out a few surprises.
"I don't know everyone who's going to attend, so I can't say that ideas won't come out of left field," she said.
Since it opened in 2005, 112 Eatery has consistently been one of Minneapolis's most acclaimed restaurants, known as a place chefs go to eat. Becker, executive chef and owner, is a James Beard award-winner and the operator of two other restaurants in the Twin Cities -- Bar La Grassa and Burch.
The production of foie gras has been banned in many European countries, including Italy and the United Kingdom. A 1998 report from the EU's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare reviewed gavage and foie gras production, concluding that "force feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds." Animal rights groups claim that gavage leads to greater incidences of disease among the birds, with ARC stating that "the slaughter is timed for just days before the bird would die from disease caused by this technique."
California banned foie gras production in 2004 with a law that went into effect last year. It is the only US state to do so. Minnesota is one of two US states that produce foie gras, at the "Au Bon Canard" duck farm in Caledonia.
Foie gras is not without its defenders. French law upholds the ingredient as "belong[ing] to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France." Foie gras farmers, like Christian Gasset of "Au Bon Canard" claim that gavage is not ultimately harmful and that a good environment for their ducks is crucial to producing a good product.
And the ingredient is, of course, a favorite of chefs. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, in a 2006 interview with Salon, says that he avoids cruelly raised foie gras, and that the foie gras used by top chefs is produced much more humanely than supermarket chicken and other meat products. He claims activists target foie gras because "it's fancy, and associated with the French, and the videos people see are lurid."
Blum counters claims from foie gras proponents in no uncertain terms.
"You're on the wrong side of history," she said.
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