foie grasLast week a federal judge overturned California’s ban of foie gras, not because the ethical issues about animal cruelty have been settled, but because the federal government rather than the states have jurisdiction over food products.

The ethical issues, of course, still exist. I’ve never been quite persuaded by claims that the processes of fattening ducks is excessively cruel but I can understand the concern. Here is one of the better articles I’ve read on the subject by J. Kenji López-Alt.

Here is a summary of the main points:

  • Ducks and other fish-eating aquatic birds have extremely tough and stretchy esophogi that are designed for swallowing whole wriggling, spine-covered, live fish. They do it naturally and it causes no discomfort. A thin plastic tube does not either.
  • Ducks breathe through their tongues, not their noses or throats. A duck can hold a solid object in its throat indefinitely and still breathe completely comfortable and normally.
  • Ducks have large crops—pouches of tissue at the base of their throats that hold swallowed food. The amount of food force-fed to a duck during gavage fills up approximately 10% of a crop’s total volume.
  • Ducks naturally store excess fat in their skin and livers in anticipation of long fasts during long migrations.

Assuming the facts are true (and I have no reason to doubt them) I find this argument convincing.