Beginning today, foie gras, the ancient culinary delicacy consisting of the fattened liver of a duck or goose, is no longer legal in California. We've known this day was coming for a long time now. The ban was passed back in 2004 in a bipartisan effort by a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature. The long period between the law's enactment and its going into effect was intended to give California's one foie gras producer a chance to adapt or find a new line of work. (If you're interested in an engaging treatment of the general controversy around foie gras, I recommend Marc Caro's excellent book, The Foie Gras Wars.)
The law can be found beginning at section 25980 of California's Health & Safety Code. It prohibits two things:
- Force feeding a bird for the purpose of
enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size; and
- Selling a product that is made by force feeding a bird.
Force feeding is defined as "a process that causes the bird to
consume more food than a typical bird of the same species would
consume voluntarily. Force feeding methods include, but are not
limited to, delivering feed through a tube or other device inserted
into the bird's esophagus."
Violations are punishable by a fine of $1,000 per violation, per day.
It will be interesting to see if restaurants come up with creative ways around the ban, as they did during the brief period in which foie gras was banned in Chicago. For instance, producing and selling foie gras is illegal, but the law does not prohibit possessing, consuming or giving it away. In Chicago, a number of restaurants provided free foie gras with certain purchases, though my guess is that such schemes would still be interpreted as sales unless the foie could be obtained without any purchase at all.
Who knows what other hijinks or unintended consequences this prohibition might give rise to. Smuggling rings from Las Vegas? Foie gras speakeasys? Clandestine backyard goose farms? Foie gras kingpins? Stay tuned.