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May 2000
Vegetarian Advocate: Foie Gras: Fur's Culinary Equivalent

By Jack Rosenberger


The next time you’re in a book store, look for a copy of Michael A. Ginor’s Foie Gras: A Passion. Before reshelving the book, however, be careful that you don’t accidentally rip the cover, tear out any pages or leave any teeth marks on its edges. Doing so would render the $49.95 book unsaleable. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay a cent for my copy. Someone (probably an animal rights sympathizer) at John Wiley & Sons, the publisher, mailed a complimentary review copy to Satya. Righto.

Foie Gras: A Passion is the latest promotional effort by Ginor, president and co-owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, to boost the popularity of foie gras de pate in North America and elsewhere. In the late 1980s, Ginor and Hudson Valley Foie Gras co-owner Izzy Yanay set out to become America’s largest producers of foie gras. This is the same Izzy Yanay who worked for Commonwealth Enterprises, a foie gras production facility near Monticello, New York.

In April 1992, Commonwealth was raided by the Sullivan County district attorney’s office and charged with cruelty to animals. Foie Gras is the liver of fattened geese or ducks. It’s considered a delicacy. A six-week undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals discovered that Commonwealth routinely over-force-fed the birds, causing them to explode. Employees who burst more than 50 ducks a month received incentive bonuses. Ginor and Yanay subsequently bought Commonwealth.

According to Ginor, the Hudson Valley Foie Gras label represents an association of four farms that breed and raise mulard ducks, plus its own U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved slaughterhouse. At Hudson Valley, the female ducks are sold to farmers for their flesh; the males endure a more unpleasant fate, being force-fed, up to three times a day, until their livers reach approximately six or more times their normal size. Then they are slaughtered.

Last year, Hudson Valley Foie Gras was responsible for the annual killing of approximately 364,000 ducks for their fattened livers. Boasts Ginor, "It is the largest single producer of high-quality foie gras in the world."

For me, what is most intriguing about Foie Gras: A Passion is the insight it offers about Ginor and foie gras. (Interestingly, Ginor co-authored the book with three other human animals—Mitchell Davis, publications director of the James Beard Foundation, and writers Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman—but Ginor’s name appears alone on the book’s spine and cover.) One of the book’s most disturbing passages about foie gras is an excerpt from Patrick Brydone’s Tour Through Sicily and Malta, published in 1770: "It is indeed a most incomparable dish; but the means of procuring it is so cruel, that I will not even trust it with you. Perhaps without any bad intention, you might mention it to some of your friends, they to others, ‘till at last it might come into the hands of those that would be glad to try the experiment; and the whole race of poultry might ever have reason to curse me: let it suffice to say, that it occasions a painful and lingering death to the poor animal: that I know is enough to make you wish never to taste of it; whatever effect it may have upon others."

What means of procurement struck Brydone as "so cruel"? Here’s Ginor: "Presumably the Sicilians had regaled him with the story that the birds—we are not told if they were geese—were blinded and their feet nailed to the floor. The English were among the first to pass laws punishing cruelty to animals, and this perception of cruelty may have kept them from producing foie gras themselves." (Emphasis mine.) Apparently Ginor believes that the practice of nailing the feet of birds to the floor and blinding them—while they’re alive—is not cruel. It’s merely perceived as cruel.

A Sign of the Times
It is a testament to the growing societal influence of animal rights advocates that Ginor’s book contains a chapter on animal rights (two whole pages!). Suffice to say, readers who expect a chapter entitled "Animal Rights" to include a single quote from an animal rights activist or a single passage from any animal rights literature about foie gras will be disappointed.

Put simply, Ginor claims the production of foie gras isn’t cruel. He writes: "Veterinarians normally visit [foie gras] facilities once or twice a week. Many of these veterinarians are also involved in their local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; if they encountered a problem on a foie gras farm, they would immediately take action. They have seen the process from breeding to marketing, and they are confident that cruelty is not inflicted on the animals. It should be noted that these veterinarians are specialists in poultry and other animals whose eventual destination is the dinner table; they are comfortable with the fact that these animals will be killed for food. Therein lies the heart of the foie gras and cruelty issue: "One who can accept the idea that ducks or geese will be slaughtered to provide livers and meat for the table should have no objections to foie gras."

Ginor’s assertion that force-feeding ducks and geese isn’t cruel may come as a surprise to the governments of England and Germany, both of which have outlawed the production of foie gras in their respective countries for humanitarian reasons. Foie Gras, of course, neglects to mention this bit of trivia.

Illegal in New York?
For the hundreds of thousands of birds who are imprisoned each year in Hudson Valley’s death factories, chief salvation lies in legislation that has been introduced in the New York state legislature that would outlaw the force-feeding of ducks and geese for nonmedical reasons. (In America, New York and California are the only two states where foie gras is produced.)

The bill, A05967, is currently languishing in the New York State Committee on Agriculture. Please request that bill A05967 be reported out of committee so it can reach the state legislature for a vote. Contact: the Honorable William Magee, Chairperson, Agriculture Committee, New York State Legislature, 641 Legislative Building, Albany, NY 12248; tel. 518-455-4807; email,

All of New York’s assemblymembers can be reached via email at If you are a resident of New York, please mention this in your letter.

If you belong to a regional or national animal rights group that has not supported the passage of A05967, please write the organization and urge it to support this very important piece of legislation.

Finally, it is necessary that foie gras be stigmatized, so that its public image is the culinary equivalent of fur. Toward that end, don’t patronize stores or restaurants that serve foie gras, and tell the owner or manager why foie gras is offensive.

With that in mind, one of the foodies who supplied a promotional blurb for Foie Gras is Ferdinand Metz, president of the Culinary Institute of America, who wrote: "This book, reflecting elegance and intellect, tells a story of immense passion. In tracing the history of foie gras, the authors carry us along through culinary traditions, ethnic cultures, and across continents. The recipes challenge the imagination and the palate."

If you think Metz is morally challenged, let him know it. Contact: Ferdinand Metz, president, CIA, 433 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538; tel. 914-452-9600;

Lastly, if you’re disappointed that John Wiley & Sons has published Foie Gras, contact Carmela DellaRipa, John Wiley & Sons, 605 Third Ave., New York, NY 10158-0012; 212-850-6630;


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