As the New York city council moved to to ban the sale of foie gras, members of the hospitality industry and diners expressed surprise and concern over the legislation – including the possibility of significant fines.
The measure, passed on Wednesday, will prohibit sales of the fattened liver of a duck or goose at restaurants, groceries, delicatessens, and other venues citywide.
The rule will bar the sale of foie gras made through the force-feeding method, called “gavage”. Grocery store owners or restaurateurs caught selling the product will be hit with a maximum fine of $2,000, reported the New York Times.
Critics of the delicacy contend its production is cruel, as most foie gras involves force-feeding by putting a tube down animals’ throats. The measure will take effect in 2022.
Jeffrey Chouinard, director of food and beverage at Dirty French, an eatery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, said the establishment had just learned about the ban – and that officials hadn’t reached out.
“I was a little shocked,” he said, saying other foodstuffs posed similar ethical questions. “If you want to open up that door, there’s a lot of other claims that can be made.”
“How about alcohol? How many people are killed?” he said. “We don’t like to talk about it because we like to have a cocktail now and then.”
Foie gras is served at Dirty French, as an accent on a $20 pork paté.
“Would we be able to survive without it? 100%,” he said.
But he thought the initiative reflected a “lack of thinking”.
“You’re going to see a great increase in the sale of foie gras” before the ban takes effect, he said.
A man who works the charcuterie counter at Le District, a sprawling French food hall located in Manhattan’s World Financial Center, disagreed with the city council’s initiative.
“When it comes to that, like, damn,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to ban it.”
“It’s pretty good,” he reflected. “The taste is buttery.”
He didn’t think that a black market for foie gras would crop up.
“If people want it, they could go elsewhere.”
Ariane Daguin, CEO and founder of the gourmet food supplier D’Artagnan, criticized the initiative in a statement: “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.”
“A New York City foie gras ban will cost more than 400 immigrant workers their jobs and chance at the American dream. If humane treatment is truly the issue here, we should be looking at factory-farm practices first before we shut down small farms,” the statement added.
Daniel Misiti, a Friars Club chef, said in a statement: “I understand the pushback.”
“As a chef, you desire to cook what the people want. But I also find it inhumane to force-feed an animal just to fulfill that goal. All in all, I remain neutral on the subject,” he said. “The law is law, and I plan on abiding by it. In this case it’s quite easy.”
Madelyn Sundquist, a graduate student in migration studies at the City University of New York, recognized the ethical controversy surrounding foie gras.
“From what I know about the actual processing of animals for consumption, there are more and less ethical ways,” Sundquist said. “Foie gras is not ethical, in my opinion.”
But Sundquist was skeptical that fines would be effective in keeping foie gras off plates – and chafed at the idea of punishment.
“I don’t like the practice of making and eating the product, but I don’t approve of the penalties being suggested.”
The New York Times also noted that enforcement of the initiative could prove tricky. Some foie gras does not come from force-fed birds, meaning it could be difficult to establish whether foie gras was illegally made.
Stephan De La Faverie, a US citizen originally from France, offered a nuanced opinion outside the swanky French bistro Balthazar, where he was waiting for a table.
“Love it – love the foie gras,” he said, adding: “I understand why they’re banning it.”
“Being a US citizen raised in France, I respect the law,” he said, “But it’s still amazing to eat, so I’ll have to go back to France to eat it.”
A menu posted outside Balthazar listed a chicken liver and foie gras mousse.
Would he be ordering it?
“Maybe I’ll get a last one today,” he joked.