Chefs Aren’t Happy Federal Judges Upheld California’s Foie Gras Ban

The feeding process isn’t pleasant. Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The future’s not looking great for foie gras in California. Fans of the controversial delicacy got dealt a new blow on Friday, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said it was okay to reinstate a ban, first passed in 2004, that a lower court first overturned in 2015. After about a decade’s worth of legal drama, this decision marks the biggest victory yet for animal-rights groups that argue that gavage (the force-feeding process done by tube) is cruel. PETA, which is known to refer to the fatty liver dish as “torture on toast,” applauded Friday’s ruling by saying that “the Champagne corks are popping,” and a Humane Society spokesperson told the L.A. Times that anytime you can get “Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former pope and the Israeli Supreme Court to agree,” that’s pretty close to a consensus.

Unless you’re canvassing the kitchens of California’s fine-dining scene: A lot of chefs weren’t thrilled by the ruling, and many have issued pro-foie statements that sound like what NRA members always say about their guns — i.e., if you want it, you’ll have to pry it from their cold, dead hands. “Nobody needs to take foie gras off the menu tonight and we certainly aren’t,” said Ken Frank, chef of Napa Valley’s La Toque, a restaurant that’s been sued before for its foie gras. “What will happen is, foie gras sales are going to go back through the roof now,” Frank said. L.A. chef and Food Network regular Eric Greenspan called the ruling “just crazy,” and the fight misplaced. (“Let’s ban assault rifles before we ban foie gras if you want to talk about cruelty.”) Neal Fraser, chef at another popular L.A. restaurant, Redbird, felt the crusade was similarly dumb: “Don’t we have anything better to do than attack foie gras?” he told the Times. “Like ending childhood hunger, cleaning up Houston, or getting a step up on homelessness.”

Marcus Henley, the manager of Hudson Valley Foie Gras who is a plaintiff in the original case, says that unfortunately for opponents, the sale of foie gras can’t be banned until his group exhausts all their appeals anyway. It “could take weeks, if not months” to get a ruling from the full Ninth Circuit (Friday’s decision was only by a three-judge panel), and if that goes poorly, too, there’s always the Supreme Court.

Chefs Are Ticked Judges Upheld California’s Foie Gras Ban