Chefs Fight California's Foie Gras Ban
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you enjoy foie gras, you may want to hold on making dinner reservations in California, because it's about to become the first state to ban the luxury liver dish made from ducks or geese. The nation's first statewide foie gras ban kicks in on July 1. Almost eight years have passed since a bill enacting that ban was signed. You'd think that by now both sides of the debate would've digested the inevitable, but no. Rachel Myrow reports from KQED in San Francisco.
RACHEL MYROW, BYLINE: Lafitte, on the city's popular Embarcadero, shut its doors in April. According to chef-owner Russell Jackson, the recession cooked the French restaurant, not his well publicized fight against the foie gras ban. The Mohawk-crested former roadie chef for rock bands is one of at least 100 well-known California chefs to take up the fight. But he's the only one selling t-shirts that say...
RUSSELL JACKSON: I've got your foie gras right here (bleep).
MYROW: Jackson is currently debating whether to continue holding what he calls FU Foie Gras Revolution dinners to raise money and awareness. It's been so long since the ban passed, many Californians have no idea it's coming. But it's definitely rocked the fine dining world.
Foie gras is a salty, sweet, buttery note of luxury, as common on high end menus as caviar and truffles.
JACKSON: Done well, beautiful chilled glass of sauterne, you know, maybe a little picked vegetables, or even just a little bit of fleur de sel with it, and just a crisp rye cracker - you know, that's sex.
On the night of his last foie gras dinner, Jackson served six preparations, including a seared foie gras set atop a braised beef cheek. Ahead of this adventure in cholesterol, the chef stood up to address his diners, clutching a copy of the state bill.
Under Subsection A, a bird includes - and here's the scary part - but is not limited to, a duck or a goose. What the hell does that mean, right?
MYROW: Jackson says he fears the people behind the ban are coming next for Thanksgiving turkeys and factory farmed chickens, because the bill defines force feeding as a process that causes a bird to consume more food than it would voluntarily.
There is little indication animal rights activists are organizing to ban chicken in California just yet, but many are proudly vegetarian or vegan.
SHANI CAMPBELL: All meat is cruel, in my opinion, but there's torture and there's cruelty and this is the most severe cruelty done to farmed animals.
MYROW: Shani Campbell of Oakland hovered with a gaggle of like-minded protestors outside Lafitte while the dinner continued inside. They gathered at the windows, holding signs that said things like, How much suffering can you swallow? Lafitte waiters taped up butcher paper to block the visual.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)
MYROW: Groups like United for Animals in Oakland and the Animal Protection and Rescue League in San Diego are not waiting passively for the ban to force change at the 300 restaurants in California they estimate still serve foie gras. Again, Shani Campbell.
CAMPBELL: It's still happening. These ducks are still suffering, and these chefs are continuing to, you know, raise funds to try to overturn the ban.
MYROW: Chicago rolled back its foie gras ban after foodies there rebelled. But 15 countries have banned it, and the diners I talked to at Lafitte seemed resigned to a foie free future. Like Jerome Pandell, an attorney from Walnut Creek.
JEROME PANDELL: I for one am not a fan of the foie gras ban, but it's the will of the people. So until it takes effect, we might as well enjoy it while we can.
MYROW: The California ban didn't take effect immediately because state lawmakers wanted to give the state's sole producer, Sonoma Foie Gras, seven and a half years to develop a humane alternative to force feeding. But the company has said it plans to cease production July 1st.
For NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.