I initially waded into these waters with my November 7 review of Tante Louise, "Fedded Bliss," that mentioned its "humane" foie gras appetizer. I had been led to believe that the duck livers produced at Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York were the result of a kinder, gentler process than those traditionally associated with foie gras farms. In fact, the company that distributes for Hudson Valley, D'Artagnan (both are partly owned by Izzy Yanay), has been claiming that the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) sanctions Hudson Valley's feeding practices. "The farm creates a comfortable and clean environment to allow the ducks to partake in this ASPCA approved feeding," reads a D'Artagnan catalogue.
No way, says the ASPCA. According to that organization's official statement on foie gras, the ASPCA "does not endorse or condone the traditional method of...foie gras production."
D'Artagnan's claims were brought to the attention of the ASPCA earlier this year when Boulder resident Jessica Sandler noticed that packages of Hudson Valley foie gras at the Boulder Wild Oats carried labels that mentioned "ASPCA approved feeding methods." As Sandler, a member of the Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, puts it, "For a store that promotes itself as being socially conscious and aware, I thought it was pretty shocking that they were even carrying foie gras at all." Sandler called the ASPCA; she says she was told the group would send a cease-and-desist order to Hudson Valley. My repeated calls to ASPCA headquarters were not returned, but I did get through to Hudson Valley's Yanay again (for more, see last week's Mouthing Off). When I asked him if the ASPCA had given him any indication of approval, he faxed me a copy of a two-year-old letter from the ASPCA's Robert O'Neill. In it, O'Neill said Hudson Valley was clean and the ducks were in good condition, but that he wished to "emphatically state that by no means does this finding suggest endorsement...of rearing birds for foie gras." Yanay also said D'Artagnan doesn't claim ASPCA approval, but when I told him I had a copy of its literature, he replied, "I think it's a mistake. No, I don't think it's a mistake, I think it's stupid. I think it's not supposed to be there." Anyway, he added, "what we are doing is so natural. It's what the ducks would be doing themselves, storing fat in their livers to migrate."
That's a bunch of duck feathers, says Ward B. Stone, a wildlife pathologist at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. In addition to calling the ASPCA, Sandler also contacted PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to complain about D'Artagnan's claims in its catalogues; in turn, PETA wrote Stone, asking for his opinion. Stone wrote back: "Wild waterfowl eat what is needed to meet their biological and seasonal needs, and they do not force feed. [In foie gras production] the ducks do not have a choice, and a pathological condition resulting in a greatly enlarged liver is the goal of forced feeding."
Armed with this information, Sandler talked with Wild Oats representatives before the company merged with Alfalfa's earlier this year. Since then, according to Wild Oats nutrition manager Lisa Shapiro, the entire corporation has declared it will no longer buy any foie gras, an action that PETA media spokesperson Yona Griffins says will make it the first national company to take such action.
Yanay says he's not worried. "Ah, you know how it is with the public," he explains. "The media gets them all excited, and then the public forgets about it the next day."
Auntie up: In addition to mentioning the foie gras in my Tante Louise review, I also made the faux pas of suggesting that proprietor Corky Douglass III had "founded" the restaurant 24 years ago. What I should have said was that Corky gave the restaurant its name and has since given it his all, but initially he came up with the concept along with owners Pierre Wolfe and Heinz Gerstle. Wolfe and Gerstle, who had hired Corky to run the site while it was still the Normandy, bowed out and sold it to him in 1974.