The foie gras is one of the foods that elicits the strongest responses from food lovers the world over. It is one of the most exquisite delicacies of any cuisine, anywhere but traditionally the methods of production involve great cruelty. Now, however, there is an alternative.
Ethical foie gras:
An alternative to cruelty.
Foie gras is the liver of geese or ducks who due to their migrational instincts gorge themselves in the winter. These migrational birds’ livers are able to store unusually large reserves of fat which they then draw on during their thousands of miles journeys to sunnier climes. The liver once procured has a supreme flavour, a silken texture that is unlike anything else and even back as far Ancient Egypt it was prized as a culinary delicacy. From the very beginning, then, foie gras in its true form was both natural and seasonal, as well as a superlative gastronomic product.
Over the centuries however, more intensive farming techniques developed and the Greeks and Romans began to force feed the geese with figs in order to fatten the livers artificially allowing for year-round foie gras. The practice known as the ‘gavage’ system developed and is widely practiced today. It is considered an intolerably cruel practice involving the force-feeding of birds by way of a metal tube rammed down the oesophagus through which grain is stuffed directly into the stomach.
The practice has in recent years gained widespread notoriety and leading many to consider foie gras an inhumane product. The sale of foie gras is banned in the State of California and many countries have moved to ban the practice of gavage including the UK, Israel, Italy, Turkey and Argentina.
But for all the protest, anger and acrimony caused by the inhumane production of foie gras, their remains a strong demand for the product among gourmands, many of whom are equally passionate about their right to indulge in it. The subject divides the restaurant industry as well as the clientele and it is difficult to see how a compromise of any kind can be found, but there is an alternative.
On a remote farm in southern Spain’s Extremadura Eduardo Sousa and Diego Labourdette produce a foie gras that is entirely natural, sustainable and cruelty-free. The story starts back in 1812 when Eduardo’s Danish grandfather moved to one of the wildest and remotest parts of Spain. Wild geese would fly over the family farm, which lay just under the birds’ migration path. But Don Martín noticed that some of the geese that touched down the farm stayed on, attracted by the area’s wetland habitat, its mild climate and rich food resources.
The Sousa family’s geese are not strictly wild, but are kept on a free-range basis and retain their instinct to gorge on acorns and grasses during the winter months. This allows the Sousas to harvest foie gras that is completely natural and ethical, what is more, their product is of the absolute highest quality, the best in the world. Sousa & Labourdette foie gras is an extraordinary luxury product and proves that working with nature rather than against it is the only sustainable future for farming as well as producing something that is highly prised for it’s superior quality. Swide spoke to Eduardo Sousa about his farm.
Do you think that boycotting and banning foie gras, as has been done in New York, is the correct way to improve the conditions in which it is produced, or does it only lead to a loss of jobs and to the trade of illegally produced foie gras?
I don’t know the foie gras industrial market in detail, or the number of jobs it creates and the illegal trade, so I can’t give a valid opinion on this issue. When I see videos circulating of how animals are treated, I understand the sense of protesting, and I think authorities should do something about it. The mistreatment of animals you see in those videos is absolutely a crime.
Your method of producing foie gras prevents forced fattening (gavage) and is based on natural cycles. Can you explain how you developed and improved this technique?
I haven’t invented anything, I just follow the natural process of nature. I inherited this technique from my grandfather, who was doing it in 1812. The practice of rearing poultry in the wild, exploiting their migratory cycle to produce foie gras, is something that has traditionally been done in the region of Extremadura, where we live. The problem is that it is a very expensive technique; the geese consume a lot of food, they need a lot of space, so all the producers abandoned this natural way of producing foie gras.
I think that while your ‘Iberian Goose’ has drawn attention to the cruelty of traditional foie gras production, it also has provided an elegant solution. Would you like to see a change in the production of foie gras in the world?
Yes, because I really enjoy our production system, it is very enjoyable to respect nature when you work. I would like for other producers to follow in our footsteps and discover the beautiful world of nature. I think that we demonstrate that it is possible to produce foie gras in another way, respecting the seasons and the natural conditions of the animal. It is a seasonal foie gras, it can only be produced once a year. The amounts are much lower than when forced feeding is practised and the costs are much higher. We could never match the actual quantities of industrial foie gras and we understand that. In my family, foie gras has always been a treat, nature’s reward for working all year. We believe that nothing should be abused, even luxurious products, they should be enjoyed without overdoing them. Maybe we should go back to seeing foie gras like that, as a once-a-year treat.
Do you think that there are other techniques of food production, agriculture, livestock or poultry farming that need urgent changes?
Yes, all production that comes from nature, in which nature is altered.
And in other sectors, could you apply cross-pollination in the production of other types of food?
I believe that food that is not obtained in a completely natural way cannot be good.
Why is there a big difference in quality between your product and those produced using the traditional method?
With the traditional method, you may find foie gras of various qualities. Some are produced with forced feeding and they can be very good. For starters, we only produce goose foie gras, which is finer, more delicate, and difficult to produce, and only whole foie gras, which is the purest product you can get. It is only cooked using a traditional French recipe without additives or mixtures. Our foie gras not only does not use gavage, but the geese live in freedom, they have a good quality of life. They fly, graze, bathe and eat food of the region, such as acorns (like the Iberian pig), olives and all kinds of grasses and wild herbs such as lupine with its yellow flower, giving the foie gras its typical colour. Let’s say that these living conditions affect the quality of the product.
Do you consider your work a form of activism?
No, we have always worked in this way. I inherited it from my grandfather, who was doing it in 1812. We work with nature and we respect everything that it gives us. We hope that others will see what we are doing and follow in our footsteps, but we are not activists.
To buy Sousa & Labourdette foie gras click here.
Photo Credits: Rasmus Madsen and Tim Stenton
Tagged with: #LUXURY FOOD
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