Monday, 12 December 2011

The Other Foie Gras Controversy

Photographed by Holly A. Heyser. For more of her Foodie photography click HERE 

Having a bit of time to myself, and too battered to go out, I spent the time listing to This American Life podcasts. Where I heard this interesting story which sheds further light on our relationships with food animals. Which in turn reminded me of a post Hank Shaw wrote a year ago.

The received wisdom [AKA dogma] has it that Foie Gras 
is only man-made by Gavage the force feeding of Ducks and Geese

Foies Gras is probably the most contentious of foods; to some the ultimate delicacy, to some 'greasy meat paste', a 4,500 year old tradition, and the most unkind of animal husbandry.

The TAL story concerns Dan Barber a NYC based farmer, restaurateur and Foie Gras aficionado's discovery of Eduardo Sousa who raises 'free-range foies gras'.  Dan initially dismisses the story as the stuff of legend but later goes to Eduardo's to track down this seemingly contradictory delicacy.

On the farm he learns that when in their wild state Geese are a feast-and-famine eaters, accustomed to periods of famine; when the opportunity arises they will gorge themselves, eating and eating until the food stuff is gone, then flying on in search of the next opportunity. When Geese are stressed by environmental factors like the cold AND surrounded by food they really stuff it in. So far so plausible.

The received wisdom [AKA dogma] has it that Foie Gras is only man-made by Gavage - the force-feeding of grain soaked in fat to the birds, however by the wonder of the bloggerverse I beg to differ. A year back my wildfood hero, hunter and blogger Hank Shaw  posted the picture at the top of this post where he compares the livers of two Ducks he shot, one with steatosis after it had been gorging itself on rice in the paddy fields of northern California. Hank's theory is that with such an abundance of high-energy food, rice, the birds 'thrifty-gene' kicks in and the bird's metabolism switches to the 'store fat now' setting.

Doctors call the condition steatosis, in which liver cells accumulate lipids. I call it yummy.
Hank Shaw

Would it also be plausible to think that 4,500 years ago early foodies saw geese and ducks from the wild with engorged livers and thought to replicate the process in the farmyard?

Eduardo does everything he can to provide an endless supply of foods right across the range that Geese are attracted to. Grains, leaves, acorns, figs, and olives are made available - but never fed to - the Geese. He contends that Geese have had a lot of their wildness bred out of them, and with it much of the feast-and-famine-eater instinct. Any and all human contact signals that food will be provided, even fencing acts to re enforce this now inbred expectation. The stuff-yer-face-coz-ya-don't-know-where-yer-next-meal's-coming-from stress response is now much less acute. Just as the dogs of today are a fair way off the African wild dogs or Australian Dingos 4,500+ is a lot of generations of geese. It would be more remarkable if they hadn't adapted to human husbandry. In Eduardo's non-contact farming the geese act like wild Geese, not being so hemmed in by a fence or protected from the elements by a shed when it gets cold they eat everything in sight just like wild geese landing on a sweet food source would.

To Dan Barber the principles he see's at Eduardo's farm la Pateria become a cipher for the way he'd like to see farming engage with naturally occurring proceses.

You can hear the This American Life podcast HERE it's the last story in the episode

Dan Barber tells his story at TED talks HERE he's very witty, you'll like it

Eduardo Sousa's website is HERE

Read Hank's post HERE with links to the research and recipes

With the Scottish Goose season still in full-flight I'm hoping to get some samples myself.

Thanks for reading, you have no idea how much your comments and page views mean to me.
More soon