Friday, July 22, 2011

Foie Gras - Our Story

Over the past five month's Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch Public House's Chef Linton Hopkins has been targeted for harassment and protest by the Animal Protection and Rescue League because of our choice to include foie gras on our menus.  The first complaint from Rebecca Weston came in March and stated that if we did not immediately remove foie gras from our menu we would be subject to protest, but that if we did remove it, positive reviews of our restaurant would be posted on Yelp.  This felt a little coercive, but nonetheless, prompted us to do some soul searching.  Sourcing and ingredients are very serious matters here.  Chef Hopkins is steadfastly opposed to the industrialized farming of animals, as well as vegetables for that matter.  

We had multiple conversations with our foie gras farmer, Guillermo Gonzalez, to be sure we felt comfortable with his animal husbandry and other practices.  Chef revisited his culinary school field trip to Hudson Valley Foie Gras.  We conducted thorough research into the issue, invited our guests and staff to give their input, read the book The Foie Gras Wars, and reached out to our chef and restaurant friends to see how they felt about foie gras and the APRL accusations that it is inhumane.  We reviewed the APRL literature, including their video.  We spoke to experts around the country about foie gras, and the APRL.


Here is some of the information we received from Guillermo:

A Day in the Life
Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras is committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, and utilizes humane techniques in the raising and feeding of ducks. Ducks are never individually caged and are allowed to roam free range.
The ducklings are received when they are one day old. They spend the first 5 - 8 weeks in a barn, under heat lamps and on bedding of wood shavings while they develop their feathers. They walk about, flap their wings freely, and have access to all natural feed and water. Once they have enough feathering, they are brought out to the walnut orchards, where they continue to roam free range for about two months. Here again, they have access to all natural feed (no hormones or antibiotics), water and shade.
During the final two weeks, they are housed in temperature-controlled barns, where they are kept in groups of about 12 ducks per pen measuring about 33 square feet. They are fed twice per day by the same feeder, using a pre-measured quantity of feed.
Natural Capacity
The first evidence of foie gras is found in ancient Egyptian history, some 45 centuries ago. In the wild, ducks and geese gorge themselves prior to migration in order to temporarily store fat in their liver and skin, which they use for energy during migration. The managed feeding in foie gras production utilizes the duck’s physiological capacity to transform the excess feed into fat and store it in the liver and skin.
Each feeding takes only a few seconds and the pressure applied has been studied to be non-injurious to the duck. A funnel is inserted down the duck’s esophagus, which deposits food as it is drawn out of the esophagus. Ducks do not have a gag reflex, throat or stomach, and the esophagus serves as a holding area for the feed while it is digested. The duck’s esophagus, as with any waterfowl such as the blue heron, which is able to swallow large, live fish, is expandable and pliable. For these reasons, the feeding is not harmful to the animal, as proven by scientific studies. Since the process of producing foie gras is physiological rather than pathological, the fattened liver, or foie gras, created by managed feeding, would return to its normal size if the process stopped.
Here are some photos of the Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras Geese.


After all this soul searching, we decided that we felt ok about farmer Guillermo Gonzalez and his Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, and we wanted to dialog with the APRL to explain our position.  We scheduled a meeting with some APRL representatives in Atlanta, including Rebecca Weston.  Several people attended.  Chef Hopkins had ordered a copy of Dan Imhoff's coffee table book on CAFO's (a book we give to all of our young cooks) for each person and explained that he too felt strongly about animal welfare and good animal husbandry, and that as a result he refused to purchase any meat that was raised inhumanely, and that from his perspective the real battle was against industrial farms.  Chef Hopkins's explained the painstaking level of attention to detail that goes into all the sourcing at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch Public House.  He pointed out that many of the photos in the APRL literature also appear in the CAFO book and are attributed to industrial foie gras farms in Israel and France.  He also verified that each of the APRL representatives at the table was a vegan who didn't believe in eating meat of any sort.  Our hope was to excite this group into real action on a real issue.  We invited them to be a part of summit on good meat and share their perspectives with a wider audience.  We felt the meeting went well and our mutual points of sympathy were understood.


Unfortunately, this group would not be reasoned with and has taken a bafflingly myopic view of animal welfare.  When we reached out to them to discuss plans for the good meat summit, they questioned whether or not we were still serving foie gras.  Soon after, they showed up at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House to protest foie gras.  Their posters and placards had the same photos of the Israeli and French industrial farms that appeared in the CAFO book.  They also had signs that read "Linton Hopkins is a hypocrite," "Restaurant Eugene is not green," and "Honk if you love animals."

In the end, it is a personal decision for everyone whether they choose to eat foie gras, oysters, bacon, broccoli, cheese, or peaches.  We are here to give you that choice every night, and to instill in you the confidence that we wouldn't serve it if we didn't believe in it.  We care deeply. We try hard, and we are always examining our practices in order to improve them.  We thank our friends and guests for their patronage and support, and we thank Rebecca Weston and the APRL for the opportunity to have a public discourse on foie gras.  We won't be bullied into making the choice someone else wants us to make, but we will always do our best to make careful, informed decisions.


Here is our public statement about the issue.

·       Everyone at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House cares deeply about all of the food we serve at our restaurants, especially the quality of life and welfare of the animals which provide the meat for our menus.  We are vehemently opposed to concentrated animal feeding operations and only buy from farmers whose animal husbandry practices and ethics we know to be of the highest quality.

·       We recognize that an animal sacrifices its life in order for us to eat it, which is why our kitchens are dedicated to using every possible part of the animal so that nothing goes to waste.  In fact, at the Public House, an entire section of our menu is dedicated to “parts,” because we believe that the needless waste of animal life is profane.

·       We also recognize that eating meat is a choice that not everyone makes, which is why we devote entire sections of our menus to vegetables.

·       We believe in the rights of animals to have a healthy and humane life and death.

·       We also believe in the rights of people to choose to eat what they want.

·       We will not be bullied or coerced into making menu choices based on anyone’s extremist beliefs. 

·       Producing foie gras is legal and based on a 5000 year old tradition.

·       We have confidence in the practices of the American foie gras producers from whom we purchase our foie gras, namely Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras

·       We have met with the APRL and believe that they are misinformed about foie gras production in the United States. 

Thank you for reading this.  We hope to see you for dinner soon.

27 comments:

  1. Thank you chef for revealing the true motive of these radical, militant, illogical vegans. Your careful consideration of the matter and education of your staff define good stewardship. My family has enjoyed your restaurants and will make every effort to do so more often.

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  2. Thank you for your honest and careful consideration of the topic. We love your restaurant and will absolutely be back - a you say, what we eat is a choice and we eat at restaurants like yours where we know great care is taken with food sourcing.

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  3. Very well written and comprehensive discussion of the situation. I personally will eat foie gras at your restaurants now that I know where it is sourced. Thank you for your reasonable, well thought out and professional response.

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  4. These protesters are incredibly annoying. I live upstairs from Restaurant Eugene and I just want to open a hose on them. They were out there again today provoking people to lay on their horns for what is effectively slander. Of course, they will never read this article.

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  5. Sadly, most random folks won't find this article either. I stumbled here from a friend's posting. I've never eaten at at Restaurant Eugene and I just might have to try it. While I'm not big on foie gras, I'm sure all of your meals must be delicious with that much care and love going into every process. Good luck with the morons. (Yes I was a vegetarian for a while, I am personally not able to be healthy on the diet. Not all vegetarians are morons; these with signs without research nor listening to spoon fed research - morons.)

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  6. I have seen foie gras and other factory farms. I have not personally been to Sonoma Valley. I know people who have, and I have seen pictures. This is not a place you should feel good about supporting.
    Remember:
    It was a tour of Sonoma that caused Whole Foods to stop selling foie gras and refuse to do business with farms that sold ducklings to Sonoma.
    It was a tour of Sonoma that caused about 500 restaurants in 2003 to remove foie gras from their menus.
    It was Sonoma that propelled a bill to ban the production of foie gras in CA.

    http://www.gourmetcruelty.com/article-abc7.php

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  7. We do have photos from Sonoma Foie Gras on our placards and banners. Anyone can view the photographs at www.stopforcefeeding.com. They are quite different from the photos shown on Sonoma's website. You can also view a video taking at Sonoma showing a rat eating at the open wound of a live duck. You will note that as the duck struggles to escape the rat, he can hardly walk, and must push himself forward with his wings. This condition is due to the "pre-measured" enormous amounts of corn force fed into the ducks twice daily. Our view of animal welfare is myopic? How is it then, that much of the world agrees with us? Foie gras or the force feeding of animals for the production of foie gras is banned in Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Holland, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. California has banned foie gras, the ban will go into effect in 2012. Wolfgang Puck has banned the sale of foie gras in all his restaurants. Whole foods refuses to sell it. It has been taken off all of Britain's royal menus, and it is banned from the premises of the NY City Council.
    Perhaps Restaurant Eugene needs to do a little more soul searching into what constitutes humane treatment of animals.

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  8. Veganism and logic are rarely found in the same person. I'm not sure if the logic was already lacking before the person converted to veganism, or if the nutritional deficiencies caused by this lifestyle -- as has been documented repeatedly by doctors and by former vegans -- impair mental function. Thank you for your research.

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  9. BTW, @JulieRobertson, your depiction is in direct contrast with those of a bird and poultry specialist and board certified veterinarian, which is cited in his blog post. Presented with the opinions of an acknowledged bird expert and someone with a rigid pre-formed viewpoint, and it is clear whose should be relied upon. I might add that any opposition to foie gras production arises SOLELY from the illogical and incorrect anthropomorphization of ducks and geese. Please get back to me once you've realized that the physiologies of ducks and geese are not like those of a human being.

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  10. I still wonder how many of these people have actually fed ducks and geese.
    Do any of these people realize that they they actually grind there food in their stomachs and don't chew there food?

    Do they realize that they naturally will fatten their livers for migration purposes?

    Do they know that they are few birds that actually will eat from human hands?

    Do they know that these animals will run up to the handler for feeding time?

    If they are saying this practice is wrong, how is blackmail right? You can be for right when it suits your needs!

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  11. If you want to know how ducks are treated at Sonoma Foie Gras, the least effective way to find out is to take an official tour. The workers will cherry pick out the disastrously sick ducks. If you want to see what it looks like when you show up unannounced, go to www.StopForceFeeding.com and jump to the 2:25 and 3:30 mark. That's Sonoma. There are also photos of Sonoma at http://www.stopforcefeeding.com/image/tid/2

    For what veterinarians, pathologists, and avian experts have to say about foie gras (spoiler alert: it's inhumane), see http://www.nofoiegras.org/science.html

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  12. The foie gras industry is not giving an accurate picture of this cruel industry. In every foie gras farm, there are ducks who can barely breath, struggle to walk and trash barrels full of dead ducks who were too weak to withstand the force feeding process. It is inherently inhumane to enlarge an animal's liver to 10 times its normal size. See www.StopForceFeeding.com for photos of the ducks that the foie gras industry will not show you.

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  13. MYTH VS FACTS:
    Myth#1
    Force Feeding mimics natural gorging of birds before migration.
    Reality: Ducks used in foie gras production are a NON migration species. Ducks that do migrate will eat more than normal before migration, and their livers may expand one and a half to two times. However, ducks force fed for foie gras experience the very painful state of having their livers expanded by over 10 times their normal size. Ducks in this state can barely walk, let alone migrate.
    Myth #2:
    Ducks enjoy being force fed and run to the feeders.
    Reality:
    This is patently untrue. As the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare of the European Union observed, force fed ducks try to get away from the feeder as much as possible, and this behavior has been documented in controlled scientific studies as well. Every video of the force feeding process confirms that ducks do not run to their feeders, and instead they try to get as far away as they can.
    Myth #3:
    Force feeding does not injure the birds because they have hardened esophagi.
    Reality:
    Ducks to NOT have the hardened esophagi, as the foie gras industry often claims. Ducks have a calcified gizzard - the organ preceding the esophagus that grinds the food - but the esophagi are just as soft and susceptible to injury as a human's. Thus the force feeding pipe does injure the esophagi of the ducks.

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  14. I would much rather see these protestors stirring up attention for the abysmal conditions in the stupendous amount of chicken houses here in Georgia than unfairly target a small local restauranteur. Why spend your time trying to make a real difference when you can seriously annoy a small group of people? Gut check here people...aren't there a lot bigger issues we could be using our valuable time to solve? Oh wait. That wouldn't help inflate anyone's ego. Guess we'll just bash an easy target to make ourselves feel better.

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  15. Foie gras is one of the least sustainable food products in existence. Did you know it takes up to 84 pounds of grain to produce a 1 pound foie gras liver? With nearly 1 billion people in this world hungry and a child dying of hunger-related causes every 5 seconds, can anyone condone this waste of grain??

    I really want to like Restaurant Eugene. I love that the restaurant buys local and organic produce, cheeses and meats. I am their target consumer!
    But, foie gras or veal on a menu has been and will always be a no-no for me. Whenever I see it listed, I leave. It is the greedy end product of waste and suffering.

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  16. I think people just miss the point of this posting. Obviously the sides don't agree on the production of foie gras... debating it again here in the comments section is hardly going to straighten that out.

    What I'm curious about is why a group would walk away from discussions with a restaurant that are directly related to its supposed goals over 1 ingredient on the entire menu. That's the myopic view being referenced, not the foie gras issue itself. If you really cared about animals the way the group claims to, you'd table one dispute to further other goals you can all agree on and work together towards.

    What's sad is, if the APRL honestly thinks that shouting in the street is more productive than working with a local restaurant owner and chef, I'd sincerely question your leadership and certainly wouldn't consider sending you any sort of funds.

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  17. Mike, I am very aware of the abysmal conditions of the Georgia chicken houses. When delivering my certified organic produce to Atlanta I used to drive the same route as the trucks delivering the chickens to slaughter. I would stop and pick up chickens that littered the side of the road, chickens that were unable to walk and being eaten alive by ants. The owners of those chicken houses are also family farms, although they work for a large industry and make no pretenses about being humane.
    I believe that the best way to change those conditions is to promote humane and healthier alternatives, so that these alternatives eventually become more profitable.
    This brings me to one of the most serious problems of this whole debate. Chef Hopkins is promoting foie gras production as a humane practice. This use of doublespeak to override a progressive movement is more ancient and time honored than the force feeding of ducks and geese.
    The photos and video I have viewed of Sonoma Foie Gras, the documentation of the actual conditions shown on stopforcefeeding.com, not the promo photos on Sonoma's website, are no different than the conditions I witnessed in north GA chicken houses, only that the conditions of the ducks have been created by force feeding and confinement.
    I am seeing the abysmal conditions of force fed ducks that are confined in feces and vomit and blood covered crates, ducks that are unable to walk being eaten alive by rats and no amount of Hopkins doublespeak is going to make me see these videos and photos as a humane way to treat animals.
    I have been growing organic produce in Georgia for 23 years. I have recently been banned from the Georgia Organics facebook page because of a single post I wrote about the hypocrisy of Chef Hopkins referring to the force feeding of ducks or geese as humane.
    There is a book that I read many years ago that I would highly recommend to anyone at Restaurant Eugene and Holman and Finch Public House, and in particular to Chef Hopkins, the wonderful and classic George Orwell's 1984.

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  18. Most birds used in Foie Gras production are birds that would not naturally migrate. In birds that are known to migrate, their liver might expand up to twice its size. Never would a bird gorge itself naturally or would they be capable of increasing their liver up to ten times its natural size, ten times larger being the industry standard. Sonoma is definitely not humane, and just like Hudson Valley they have a staged tour to mask the cruelty that takes place. It is not sustainable, humane, organic, local, etc. APRL has seen the horrific truth about Sonoma first hand and this is why APRL is so passionate about educating the public about this despicable delicacy.

     Linton, I was at that meeting with you. I saw that you were trying to set your restaurant apart and I was truly impressed. I am not ignorant to the fact that people will always eat meat, and I liked your stance against the horrific conditions of CAFO’s. I wish more restaurants would hold the products that they serve to this high standard. When my husband and I left that meeting with you, we felt with your strong convictions that it would only be a matter of time before you realized a restaurant like yours wants no connection with a company like Sonoma. It is an industrial factory farm and is one of the main contributors to the ban that will take effect in California next year. I was shocked that your response to Rebecca’s e-mail was an emphatic no. With that emphatic no and unwillingness to further listen, it felt as if you had closed the friendly dialog that we had opened during our almost two hours together.

     As far as having a veterinarian’s report from someone who is being paid by the one in question, I am not at all swayed. We recently won our battle against Ringling in Fulton County because the veterinarians being paid by Ringling had no credibility. When there is monetary gain to be made there is no verity.  I also hesitate to make conclusions from a phone conversation with Guillermo Gonzalez, since he too has monetary gain to be made.  Yes, foie gras has been around for years, but that doesn’t make it right. We have had many things that were part of our cultural past that have absolutely no place in our future.

    Mike- foie gras is one thing I am passionate about. Assuming this is the only injustice I fight for is preposterous. I wish I could do more, and I can assure you I have no extra time to inflate this ego that you speak of.  

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  19. I'm a customer. I admit, I had already frequented your restaurant twice before I realized you had that on your menu, because honestly, I go straight to the veggies. Yes, I do eat plant based, and I'm in Mensa, so don't call me a moron.

    This was a decision I made *before* the protests. I don't care that you serve meat, because it's humanely sourced. That's one of the reasons that I felt okay about supporting you. But I have read reports about Sonoma and there is a reason they are being shut out of California. People that put their own avarice before the welfare of animals can blow smoke all they want with industry funded veterinarians. There are plenty who will say otherwise.

    I haven't been back to your restaurant. I would gladly dine with you once a week, but I won't until this is gone. I don't consider you green or sustainable with this on your menu.

    I haven't protested your restaurants, I do possess the ability to use logic, and I'm sure the E6 dairy farm looked like and pretty for official tours too. I'm not buying it. I'll come back when it's gone. In the meantime, I'll eat elsewhere. So put your blinders back on and forget you're losing REAL customers even without the protests.

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  20. For the sake of clarity, and at the request of APRL, Chef Hopkins would like to make a slight correction to the post above.

    The threatening and coercive e-mail we received from Ms. Weston was not the first contact we had with her. She did send us a package and a video, which we reviewed, and she called the restaurant before sending this e-mail:

    "I am writing to follow up on information we sent you last month regarding the sale of cruel foie gras at your restaurant. In addition to a phone call, we also mailed you brochures and a 5 minute undercover DVD of foie gras production.

    We are beginning to schedule protests in Atlanta, and we need to know if you intend to remove foie gras from your restaurant so that we don't schedule protests at Restaurant Eugene. I have included photos of past protests in this email and you can see more at www.stopforcefeeding.com under “Campaign”. The protests involve large banners containing images of force feeding and the resulting crippling injuries we have documented at the only three farms in the country that produce this barbaric item.

    If you do choose to remove the option of foie gras from your restaurant, we will immediately send out a press release (if you would like). In addition, positive reviews will be posted about your restaurant on Yelp and other review websites.

    Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

    Sincerely,
    Rebecca Weston"

    The above post should have read "The first threat we received from Rebecca Weston came in March." While we think this is beside the point, we apologize for the imprecise word choice.

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  21. Foie gras is delicious.
    Don't like it?
    Don't eat it.
    Your holier than thou sanctimony is not delicious, it's boring.
    Thank you

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  22. Only idiots dont eat meat. Stupid vegens. You will die from no meat. Go cry about something important and EAT MEAT!!!

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  23. I doubt either side was as diplomatic as they could have been. I don't believe RE was the sad victim of some crazy vegan group, and I don't believe Ms. Weston should have let the dialogue end.
    I hope dialogue between RE and ARPL can resume. RE is good restaurant: good for people, for animals, for the environment.
    If foie gras is as horrible as it sounds- I have read many articles and looked at many pictures that are quite upsetting- I hope RE removes it.

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  24. Do not be fooled, people. The APRL are a group of militant vegans who don't believe in eating meat.

    Go here to read about how the founder of APRL believes that "consumption of meat, dairy and eggs is not necessary for human life, and causes tremendous animal suffering...There is simply no justifiable reason to eat animal products, especially with all of the great tasting alternatives on the market (i.e. every kind of veggie meat you can think of, soy ice cream in every flavor, soy milks, etc...)."
    http://www.kathrogers.com/vegan.php

    Watch this video and hear the other founder say "Our message is always that people need to reduce and eliminate animal products because that's where the suffering comes from."
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZuVlQ2hL5o

    This is about a tiny group of people who want to force us all conform to their dietary choices.

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  25. Well said Chef! Stay true to your craft.

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  26. I'm a vegetarian. I am not militant, nor do I appreciate some fat guy yelling at me that I'm an idiot for not eating meat.

    Anyway, I really enjoy Eugene and their vegatable menu and am impressed by their commitment to sustainable food. I have no problem with the foie gras on their menu. I I read this article and it really gave me some perspective:


    http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/12/the-physiology-of-foie-why-foie-gras-is-not-u.html

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  27. Hey I just stumbled on this....I am a farmer who produces free range organic ducks. I would never in my life, force feed one of my ducks to produce fois gras. Nor would I allow that practice to happen on my farm. I don't think it would be allowable under the organic standard. Plus its totally unethical. Regular duck liver, not fattened is pretty good. Or add in the drippings from the roasted duck which has grown to full size-they are pretty fatty. Please don't support fois gras.

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