When I wrote about my visit to the Sonoma Foie Gras farm, I had not yet gotten to know the Gonzalez family very well. They seemed nice enough, like many families who move to the US and do more than just make a living, but build a legacy of survival and entrepreneurship for their children.
I won’t lie to you and tell you that the Gonzalez sisters, Maria and Helena weren’t the absolute sweetest people that I met at the first foie gras meeting at Incanto last year. They were delightful, charming and sincere, despite the fact that of everyone in that room of chefs, media and producers, their family stood to lose the most with the impending ban.
On July 1st, 2012, the Gonzalez family, a.k.a. Sonoma Foie Gras will shut down their business of 26 years and tell all of their employees, some of which had been with them for 20 years, that they need to find new jobs and most likely, new places to live with their families since some lived on the property and/or nearby.
A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
Back to foie. I will state here and in front of anyone that I believe that foie production in the US is not a cruel practice. As I mentioned in my post about the visit to the farm, I was fully prepared to walk away from the farm and never eat foie gras again. Trust me, this was not an easy decision to make. I love foie gras. It is one of the only foods in the world that embodies the adjective “sublime”, but still, I can’t eat sublime with a clear conscience knowing that an animal suffered. Lucky for me, I can still enjoy it with a crystal clear conscience, just not in a California restaurant.
A BEAUTIFUL FAMILY
I can now say that I am friends with the Gonzalez family. I was honored to be invited to enjoy one of the last foie dinners at Txoko restaurant in San Francisco with them. Chef Ian Begg prepared one of the most delicious and memorable foie dinners of my life. I was seated next to Guillermo Gonzalez and sat in awe as he smiled and enjoyed the product of 26 years of hard work before saying good bye. I didn’t hear one negative word come out of Guillermo’s mouth. He and Junny, his wife and business partner, were gracious and positive. 27 years ago, they traveled to France with their little girls to live on a foie farm for a year to learn how to raise foie ducks in an artisanal way and now it is all over.
ANGER AND A LESSON LEARNED
I am angry and I know that isn’t going to get me anywhere, but I have learned so much about politics, fear based propaganda and how easy it is to manipulate the general public by cloaking yourself in a “touchy feely” subject, such as animal rights. I have been duped before and even donated money to such causes.
WHO IS FIGHTING FOR FOIE
I am not speaking officially for CHEFS, the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards. This is the coalition that was formed mostly by chefs to fight the impending ban. I know that even though the battle is over, that the war is just beginning and I hope that CHEFS continues to fight the fight. I have heard talk that the senator who introduced the ban in 2004, had been strong-arming legislators in Sacramento who supported overturning the ban. I am sure this is an oversimplification, but you get the idea of how dirty this is.
I am disappointed with the media. Every article I read, positioned the issue as animals rights activists against chefs who want the freedom to eat what they want. From a consumer standpoint, this sounds like it is people against cruelty to animals (who can argue with that?) against chefs who don’t care about cruelty and just want to eat, serve and sell what they want.
CHEFS ARE THE GOOD GUYS
The reality is that it is thanks to high end chefs that artisanal and humane farming methods exist. Great chefs have close relationships with farmers and producers. They really care about where their products come from. They know that if an animal is treated cruelly, that it won’t taste good, so they pay a premium to farmers that are meticulous about raising, feeding, slaughtering and processing. I hate to sound like a broken record, but consumers should be concerned with the chickens, cows and pigs on factory farms where most of consumer meat comes from. That is disgusting and cruel. The small faction of the animal rights movement who are behind this ban are very well funded, but not well enough to have taken on big guns of factory farms. They would have been crushed so they chose an easy target that just happened to be one of the industries that actually cares about how animals are raised.
WHAT IS NEXT
I know that the Gonzalez family will survive. It is who they are and I can’t wait to see what their next venture is.
I urge you to become educated on the anatomy of water fowl and to do more research for yourself on foie gras production in the US. You may click here to read my post where I list facts about foie. If you would like to know more about the history of the foie gras battle, please read The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro.
I hope that chefs in California do what chefs in Chicago did and sell $20 salads and give the foie away for free.
I want to end this on a happy note, so I will share the video that I made with Junny Gonzalez on how to prepare Magret. For Californians, you can probably apply the same recipe to regular duck breast and perhaps remove a minute from the formula and make it a 3•3•7•7, instead of a 4•4•8•8 recipe. Enjoy.