Foie gras – American style

January 1, 2010

Foie gras – American style


Ted Burnett

“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.”
– Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987), a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist

[A writer’s note: Due to a lack of personal experience with this heavily French subject, I have found it necessary to quote extensively and verbatim, an online encyclopedia, in order, to educate some in this audience and to make a larger point (pages 3-4). I apologize, in advance, to all.]

As defined by Wikipedia, Foie gras (pronounced /fwa: gra:/ in English; French for “fat liver”) is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fatten. This fattening is typically achieved through gavage (force-feeding) corn, according to French law, [1] though outside of France it is occasionally produced using natural feeding. Pâté de foie gras was formerly known as “Strasbourg pie” in English due to that city being a major producer of this food product.[2] Foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavour is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of a regular duck or goose liver. Foie gras is sold whole, or is prepared into mousse, parfait, or pâté (the lowest quality), and may also be served as an accompaniment to another food item, such as steak. French law states that “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.”[3]

The technique of gavage dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the ancient Egyptians began keeping birds for food and deliberately fattened the birds through force-feeding.[4] Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed worldwide, particularly in other European nations, the United States, and China.[5]

Gavage-based foie gras production is controversial, due to the force feeding procedure and the possible health consequences of an enlarged liver that could be faced by the duck or goose. A number of countries and other jurisdictions have laws against force feeding or the sale of foie gras.

Geese and ducks are omnivorous, and, like many birds, have expansive throats allowing them to store large amounts of food, either whole or pre-digested, in the crop, an enlarged portion of the esophagus, while awaiting digestion in the stomach, similar to python feeding. In the wild this dilation allows them to swallow large foodstuffs, such as a whole fish, for a later, long digestion. Wild geese may consume 300 grams of protein and another 800 grams of grasses per day. Farmed geese allowed to graze on carrots adapt to eat 100 grams of protein, but may consume up to 2500 grams of the carrots per day. A wild duck may double its weight in the autumn, storing fat throughout much of its body and especially on the liver, in preparation for winter migration.[42] Force feeding produces a liver that is six to ten times its ordinary size.[43] Storage of fat in the liver produces steatosis (fatty liver disease) of the liver cells.

The geese or ducks used in foie gras production are usually kept in a building on straw for the first four weeks, then kept outside for some weeks, feeding on grasses. This phase of the preparation is designed to take advantage of the natural dilation capacity on the esophagus.[44] The birds are then brought inside for gradually longer periods while introduced to a high starch diet. The next feeding phase, which the French call gavage or finition d’engraissement, or “completion of fattening”, involves forced daily ingestion of controlled amounts of feed for 12 to 15 days with ducks and for 15 to 18 days with geese. During this phase ducks are usually fed twice daily while geese are fed up to 4 times daily. In order to facilitate handling of ducks during gavage, these birds are typically housed in individual cages or small group pens during this phase.

In modern production, the bird is typically fed a controlled amount of feed, depending on the stage of the fattening process, its weight, and the amount of feed it last ingested.[45] At the start of production, a bird might be fed a dry weight of 250 grams (9 oz) of food per day, and up to 1,000 grams (35 oz) (in dry weight) by the end of the process. The actual amount of food force-fed is much greater, since the birds are fed a mash whose composition is about 53% dry and 47% liquid (by weight).[46]

The feed is administered using a funnel fitted with a long tube (20–30 cm long), which forces the feed into the animal’s esophagus; if an auger is used, the feeding takes about 45 to 60 seconds. Modern systems usually use a tube fed by a pneumatic pump;[47] with such a system the operation time per duck takes about 2 to 3 seconds. During feeding, efforts are made to avoid damaging the bird’s esophagus, which could cause injury or death, although researchers have found evidence of inflammation of the walls of the proventriculus after the first session of force-feeding[48]. Several studies have also demonstrated that mortality rates can be significantly elevated during the gavage period [49][50][51].

To make a larger point…

In the course of my daily routine, I generally come home for a siesta after “working” in the morning and eating out for lunch. While resting on my couch, I often watch some TV as I attempt to take a nap. Sometimes I am successful at falling asleep and sometimes I am not. While I have heard of the term “Foie gras”, I didn’t know what it was until recently. I have never seen it offered on any restaurant menu that I can remember much less have I eaten it. From the recent reports that I have gotten, I wouldn’t call the comments an endorsement.

For months now, I have been enjoying watching three travel shows on Alabama Public Television (PBS) beginning at 1 o’clock. Travel hosts Rudy Maxa, Burt Wolf and Rick Steves take their viewers to all four corners of the world, from Argentina to Amsterdam, Barbados to Belize, Egypt to England, Israel to Iran, Thailand to Turkey and much more. One recent episode of Rick Steves’ Europe featured Rick traveling, by car, across the French countryside until he arrived at a small farm. The young residents, a married couple, made their living raising flocks of geese for Foie gras.

After exchanging greetings, at their front door, the husband and wife eagerly led Rick and his camera crew around the back to their barn. Standing at the building’s entrance, geese were visible from their open pens. The husband offered to give Rick a live demonstration of gavage, or force-feeding. Grabbing the first available bird to serve as a prop, and while kneeling down, he gently held the goose under his right arm while inserting the long plastic feeding tube through the beak’s opening and down into the bird’s esophagus, with his left hand. With a quick blast of air, the corn mash was delivered for one of the goose’s daily feedings. After the show ended, I gave little thought as to what I had just witnessed, the making of Foie gras, until hearing the following story.

Over coffee, I listened to a friend recount the story of a lost tribe of Native Americans who once lived on a reservation in Southwest New Mexico. They barely had any possessions and were subsisting entirely off their own land. With the white man and the Mexican Army encroaching on their territory they became enamored with the glittering life of the European settlers. Encouraged to leave the reservation for a “normal” life in the white settlements many of them believed they could someday acquire these same material goods while integrating and assimilating into this new culture, but that didn’t happen. Most of the tribe soon found themselves trapped in dead-end jobs with nowhere to go and no socio-economic ladder to climb.

The demise of the Native Americans was caused by their exposure to European diseases, to barrels of whiskey (“fire water”) while always being at the mercy of the white, Christian man’s beliefs, his broken treaties and his flat-out lies. Those who left the reservation for a better life in this material world never stood a fighting chance and those who stayed didn’t fair much better. These once proud nations with populations in the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions at their peak would be cut down and demoralized into communities of mere thousands.

As my friend, Mike, finished talking an “Ah-ha!” moment overcame me. Saying under my breath that’s exactly what’s happening to America. We’ve become those Indians, we’re those geese that are being fatten up and served as Foie gras to mythological corporations and institutions. We’re that Thanksgiving Day turkey that’s stuffed and ready to be eaten on a formal dining table dressed in the finest china, spotless crystal and polished silver. It’s a feast, that’s fit for a king. This is what’s gotten us sick, the American culture. We’re enduring a constant 24/7 bombardment, a war from an ever-growing $14 trillion economy with all the marketing and advertising firepower that NY’s Madison Avenue can blast at each one of us. The temptation to buy our way into constant happiness is incessant as is the pressure to conform. We’ve become slaves to it while losing our personal power to say, “No, thanks.” That’s no “free market” when your mind is already made up and you haven’t even left the house. You’ve got to have it, no ifs, ands or buts, money or no money.

Since our births religious institutions and the American education system, both, public and private, have stuffed us with so much anxiety, confusion, doubt, guilt, fear and insecurity, through violence, while stripping us of our much needed confidence and esteem. We’re full of unusable data, doctrine from which we develop rigid beliefs systems (national, political, racial, religious, social, gender and sexual views) for life, in order, to cope. Our beliefs are not based in actual experience, but rather in another person’s set of ideas about the world. We’re trained to solve math equations, but none of life’s basic problems that ultimately lead to wisdom. Instead, we’re a bunch of fools. We’re willing to die for almost any cause while living for none. Our basic trouble is that we’ve been brainwashed and we don’t even know it. As kids, we’re filled to the gills with negative emotions, such as, anger, depression, fear, procrastination and regret that we don’t understand. We’re left trembling while strutting like ducks and acting all macho.

We’ve lost our integrity, our intuition for living, our humanity and our sense of curiosity necessary for natural learning due to these corrupt institutions. We don’t want to learn another thing or change our immoral ways. We don’t want to grow up or drop any of our bad habits, which are inversely related to each other. The world is in perpetual motion, but not us. We keep fighting that too, tooth and nail. We’re like a fixed point somewhere on the globe. We’re fixed for life, use a GPS (global positioning system) device and you’ll find us every time in the same spot, from birth to death. We’re so predictable in our immature beliefs and in our actions. We’ve been conditioned to react like little robots with easy to push buttons. We tune out everything that is foreign or new to us. We avoid reality at all cost. That’s not natural or healthy. That’s not living. Guess how sick this has made you and me and our entire society? Very!

Do you think for one minute the 2,000 pages of health care legislation will address or alleviate any of this insanity, the widespread pain and suffering? Sadly, it won’t. It won’t change a single thing about the chronic spiritual, emotional, mental and physical sickness affecting all of us, individually and collectively. We’re a bunch of emotional and spiritual cripples from which our mental and physical diseases manifest.

Has your physician ever told you that? Western medicine treats only the presenting symptom (a broken mind and body) not the underlining cause(s) (a spiritual and emotional malady). Last year’s political drama titled “health care reform” playing in a Washington theatre was one big waste of time, money and energy. However, that’s about the only thing that these actors, Congress and the president, know how do and do well.

The first step, in turning our country around, is by improving the overall health of this American society. We have to admit that we’re a bunch of sicko’s. Just look around, that’s pretty obvious. Read your newspaper or watch the evening news. You probably don’t like me saying this, do you? Improving our spiritual and emotional condition will lead to many of our mental and physical diseases and illnesses clearing up. Get rid of the inner-conflict, between one’s head and one’s heart, that’s what’s obstructing our personal freedom, happiness and good health. Watch mankind flourish. Watch man find himself and his talents. Watch man get along with his neighbor: Americans and Russians, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, rich man and poor man, black and white, Mexican and Asian, man and woman, gay and straight, adult and child, young and old, sick and well.

Our health care system isn’t the problem; it’s merely a symptom of it. Our entire culture is literally killing us. We’re open seven days a week and we never rest not even when the doctor says so. We’re all slaves to pleasing one another and to all these material things, to our job and to our home improvement projects. You can build all the hospitals you want, you can graduate the finest doctors and nurses in the world, you can giveaway healthcare for free, but you’re working on the wrong end of the problem. Like I said that’s not even a problem. Maybe the Native Americans were simply the canaries in our toxic coalmine. We didn’t even notice their sudden death or question why. It killed them and now it’s killing us. Run like hell or die!

To explain health care in economic terms, picture the ol’ supply and demand lines, from school, crossing at some point. At their current intersection, the system is being heavily taxed with long waits and short visits at the doctor’s office while emergency rooms are overwhelmed and tens of millions of Americans don’t have any coverage. We are all hooked on various prescription drugs to treat our many diagnoses while others are filing for bankruptcy due to a prolonged illness.

The health care industry, which is made up of hospitals, state-regulated insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, pharmacy chains, physician groups and other healthcare-related providers are all concerned about one thing and its not the health of you or me – instead its about increasing their revenues, making lots of money for shareholders. They’re not interested in improving the overall health of this nation because that cuts directly into their bottom-line. Sickness is big business, why change that? We’re at odds with each other and nothing successful will ever be achieved until we all get on the same page. We must be unified in our understanding of what the problem is and isn’t.

Sadly, our federal government is on the wrong side of this debate. They want to see this segment of the economy grow, regardless of our pain and suffering. We, Americans, are the losers. We are here to serve the system, to serve our government and not the other way around. “Health care reform” focused solely on rehabbing the system to achieve specific financial and political objectives for the next ten years, not on healing the sick. If the focus were on simply telling the patient, the American society, about the “obstructions in our eye”, about the obstructions that keep us from seeing the truth then human behavior would change, overnight, and for the better. Addictions would be dropped while life, liberty, happiness and health would finally be realized.

Curing chronic diseases would drastically improve along with the system’s overall capacity to treat and to care as our dependency on health care falls. Within the system, the pressures and stresses on a drug dependent and sex addicted staff of physicians, nurses and pharmacists would drop while quality, or good medicine, would rise. The cost would also drop for all – individuals, families, businesses, to our state and federal governments. Health care in America would become a smaller portion of our GDP like it is with many other industrialized nations. All this would happen without changing a single thing to “the symptom”, to our health care system. Who can be against this?

As Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. once said, “Don’t cut the person to fit the coat.” Isn’t that what Washington is doing? They’re rationing health care, squeezing the last bit of life out of a very sick system due to irrational fears, greed, and ignorance, but not out of love and compassion, which is the basis of good medicine. Our insane lawmakers and the president are purporting to do one thing when in reality they’re doing the complete opposite. They don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just pretending. The pain and suffering will get worse. Their conduct is criminally insane. We deserve better or do we? Our problem isn’t with the health care system, but instead with everything else…

Now, can you feel the log in your eye that’s obstructing your vision? Do you want to see the world, as it really is, then pull it out? Slowly!

Insight is power. To better health and life for all.


Copyright © 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Foie gras – American style” by Ted Burnett.

I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – I can be contacted via email at – My biography can be viewed at

References: de Mello, Anthony quote:
De Mello, Anthony, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality Copyright © 1990

Wikipedia: Foie gras
1. ^ French rural code L654-27-1: “On entend par foie gras, le foie d’un canard ou d’une oie spécialement engraissé par gavage.” (“‘Foie gras’ is understood to mean the liver of a duck or a goose that has been specially fattened by gavage”).
2. ^ The New Encyclopædia, ed. Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck and Frank Moore. (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903): Vol. XIII, 778.
3. ^ French rural code L654-27-1
4. ^ Ancient Egyptian Veterinary Practices
5. ^ a b A Global Taste Test of Foie Gras and Truffles : NPR
42.^ EU ReportPDF (277 KiB), section 4
43.^ EU ReportPDF (277 KiB), p60
44. ^ EU ReportPDF (277 KiB) EU Scientific Report, p19
45. ^
46. ^ Guemene D, et al., “Force-feeding procedure and physiological indicators of stress in male mule ducks,” Br Poult Sci. 2001 Dec; 42(5):650–7, p.651.
47. ^ The standard practice is pneumatic force-feeding, as stated on this page and this foie gras enthusiast page; see also this force-feeding equipment page.
48. ^ Serviere, J, Bernadet, MD and Guy, G. 2003. Is nociception a sensory component associated to force-feeding? Neurophysiological approach in the mule duck. 2nd World Waterfowl Conference. Alexandria, Egypt
49. ^ EU Report
50. ^ Koehl, PF and Chinzi, D. 1996. Les resultats technico-economiques des ateliers de palmidpedes a foie gras de 1987 a 1994. 2eme journees de la recherche sur les palmipedes a foie gras. 75.
51. ^ Chinzi, D and Koehl, PF. 1998. Caracteristiques desateliers d’elevage et de gavage de canards et mulards. Relations avec les performances et techniques et economiques. Proceedings des 3eme journees de la recherche sur les palmipedes a foie gras. 107.

 Ted Burnett: I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: