Foie gras: Controversial, but widely served in the Netherlands

Anyone who loves eating foie gras can no longer go to Bistronum des Arts in Utrecht. The owner removed foie gras from the menu after strong protests from animal activists in her business. The production of foie gras is prohibited in the Netherlands, but it can be sold here.

Insecure feeling

Her employer told RTV Utrecht she feels insecure. Six activists for justice were arrested that evening for refusing to leave the restaurant. Two of them chained themselves and the police had to cut them off.

Active for Justice is thrilled with the outcome of their activism: “Great news, the #11 restaurant that’s made it off the map since we started this campaign!”

Animal rights organization Wakker Dier has also adhered to a ban on foie gras for years. “Everyone is allowed to take action, though addressing individual entrepreneurs isn’t quite my style,” says company spokeswoman Anne Hillhorst. “But there is a lot of animal suffering associated with foie gras. There are really a lot of people who say, ‘I’m not selling it anymore.'”

Supermarkets don’t sell it, and large hotel chains haven’t been on their menus for a long time. “A large part of the Netherlands knows: rather not. But foie gras is still sold as a luxury product by restaurants.”

Controversial

It has been a controversial product for a long time, says culinary journalist Heske Versperle v. RTL Nieuws. “Foi gras is often viewed as the ultimate meat—in a positive and negative sense, and by carnivores and animal activists alike. Absolutely delicious, and cruelty-free.”

With so many types of meat, you can still say the animals had a good life. “You can’t do that with foie gras. It can only be produced in a way that really hurts the bird. It’s been shown that geese and ducks really suffer.”

The animals are stuffed (fattened) with corn porridge during the last weeks of their life. This is done through a funnel with a tube in the throat. “Their livers get absurdly large due to fattening, which makes the animals sick. This is the only way to produce foie gras – there is no animal-friendly way.”

There is an alternative called foie royal. Geese used for this have a good life. After slaughter, the animal’s lard is pressed into the liver under high pressure. As a result, you can still get a product that looks like foie gras.

“It’s hard to get her out.”

In many countries, including the Netherlands, the production of foie gras is prohibited. In France, where 80 percent of the world’s production is produced, the product was legally designated a cultural heritage in 2006, with force-feeding being mandatory. The foie gras available in Dutch restaurants is sourced from France and Hungary by wholesalers.

So it’s debatable, but Versel still finds that restaurants often put foie gras on the menu. “I estimate that 90 percent of the star restaurants serve it. Foie gras is an essential part of French cuisine, and people find it festive and elegant, and such a tradition is hard to shake.”

The French protect foie gras

Foie gras is an ancient product: the Egyptians actually started it and the Romans ate it. The vast majority of foie gras is made in France.

There is also a debate there, says France correspondent Evelyn Bielsma. “But I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. A few mayors decided a while ago not to eat foie gras in their town hall anymore. But it turns out the French are very attached to it.”

Research has shown that nine out of ten French people eat foie gras. Almost 80 percent of the French believe that foie gras should be on the table during the holidays. “It’s really part of it.”

why? “People really like it, and it’s also an unbeatable product in terms of taste and texture.”

The best restaurants always have a number of “high level ingredients” on the menu. “Think caviar, truffle, lobster, turbot, and scallops. Foie gras is definitely among them.”

Conscience gnawing

It is generally known that foie gras is a non-animal friendly product. However it is served. “I think many chefs have shrugged it off for a long time – it’s not so bad, factory farming is much worse, etc. I did it myself. But at some point my conscience began to gnaw: Why am I actually eating this? Now I’m actually not ordering it.” Again, though, I really like it. It feels like a product that’s out of date.”

Versprille doesn’t like the way these activists are dealing with a company in Utrecht. “It sounded very intimidating. I also don’t think it helps at all. In the end, the product is very prevalent and very popular for that, even among people who really know how to make it.”

According to Versprill, banning “politics” is the only way foie gras can disappear from menus. “But I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.”

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