petite anglaise

December 21, 2004

tasty torture

Filed under: miam — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:00 am

If you are a vegetarian, or a person of a naturally squeamish disposition, please refrain from reading any further.

Click on one of the links in the ‘favourite sites’ menu to the right, for an alternative source of entertainment. Except JonnyB’s private secret diary, because yesterday’s post was a veritable bloodbath involving the dismemberment of hares, and you probably won’t like that either.

It is our office Christmas lunch today. Lunch, as opposed to dinner or party, so as to avoid the kind of lecherous, drunken, fesses-photocopying debauchery that typically goes on during office Christmas parties where Brits are involved. This is probably A Good Thing, as I think we are all out of A3 paper.

Instead we will be partaking of a gourmet, civilised meal in a very fine Parisian establishment located inside the Gare de Lyon railway station. It’s not your average station snackstop. If you have seen Luc Besson’s French film ‘Nikita’ (not the nasty Hollywood remake), you may remember ‘Le Train Bleu’ (pictured above) as the posh restaurant where Nikita executes a complete stranger before making her memorable exit via the kitchen garbage shoot.

As is customary over the Christmas season, the menu features foie gras as a starter. It will be my first foie gras of 2004, with more to follow on Christmas Eve when we have Christmas dinner with the EVILs (EVil-In-Laws).

Foie gras (literally: fat liver) is one of those foods which tastes very nice indeed (in moderation) but it does you no good whatsoever to reflect on how it is made. Being a glutton for punishment however I have done some background reading on the subject and am now beginning to wish I had opted for the moelleux aux champignons instead.

Ducks and geese are overfed with corn (using a kind of funnel or catheter inserted forcibly into their throats) over a period of several weeks prior to ‘harvesting’. A process charmingly referred to as ‘cramming’, which enlarges their livers to approximately ten times their natural, healthy size. Anti-foie gras campaigners refer to this delicacy as the ‘fur of the food trade’. To protestors this technique equals torture. To its defenders, it is simply farming.

Allegedly humans’ fondness for this luxury food came about when the livers of ducks and geese were consumed in Ancient Egypt during their ‘winter sun’ holidays. As the birds had gorged themselves in preparation for their migratory journey, their livers were naturally swollen with stored fat. Defenders of foie gras are anxious to point out that a fattened liver is not synonymous with a diseased liver, so it is inaccurate to say that this luxury food is nothing more than cirrhosis on your plate.

Strangely, it is not the decidedly unpleasant desciptions of ‘cramming’ that are causing my appetite to falter. It is the use of the word ‘lobes’ on one website which helpfully explains that foie gras entier is made from one or more ‘entire liver lobes’. Lobes? Not on my plate. Let it not be said that Petite Anglaise is a lobe eater.

Foes of foie gras will be pleased to note that Arnie has outlawed (I won’t say ‘terminated’) foie gras produced by inhumane methods in California, in a bill which will come into force in 2012. So that gives producers another seven years or so to devise a ‘humane’ method.

I wish them luck. It may turn out to be even trickier than trying to persuade the Tadpole to eat her greens.


  1. There’s a good essay in a new book called “France: A Love Story” about foie gras and how it’s “made”.

    Comment by Anna — December 21, 2004 @ 10:04 am

  2. i weep for geese.

    Pass the lobes, please.

    Comment by anan — December 21, 2004 @ 11:46 am

  3. Evil friends of my vegetarian Buddhist son-in-law used to trot round France finding and sending him pictures of foie gras geese having food stuffed down their gullet by locals in ethnic dress. Nice to know equally evil Arnie does one good thing. Ironic given what’s he reputed to do women.

    Have to say that French Christmas parties sound civilised in other respects. In part of France where friends once had vineyard was, it was also nice to hear that main issue for old folks outing wasn’t what bog-standard resort they should go to for their roast dinner or fish and chips, as in UK, but ‘le menu.’ Just that. (Thank god I’m not in London just now thereby avoiding vomiting young. What do they call alcopops in France?) PS Un baiser virtual for Tadpole.

    Comment by grannyp — December 21, 2004 @ 2:30 pm

  4. < >
    sorry, I’m afraid I fail to see what’s wrong with ‘lobes’ ? :???:
    (english not being my original language, I guess I’m missing something)

    Comment by quietseb — December 21, 2004 @ 5:44 pm

  5. It was a free range bloodbath, though.

    Comment by JonnyB — December 21, 2004 @ 5:51 pm

  6. On my last trip around France, I spent a considerable amount of time in the Perigord, gorging myself on gizards preserved in goose fat, fatted duck thighs and foie gras. When I wasn’t at the trough, I managed to take in several duck and goose farms, tasting the produce, visiting the produce before it had been slaughtered, and what I saw was incredible.

    The majority of ducks and geese in the Perigord area spend their early years on a hillside in what is a very gorgeous area of France. They cackle and wander about freely. When they get a bit older they get put in cages, two to a cage, and there’s enough space. Yes, it’s true they get fed quite a bit, but they never looked terrified, and they seem quite happy to see the farmer come. Geese don’t have the type of throat where they gag…in fact, from their beak to their stomach, it’s one uninhibited passage. Therefore, the geese and ducks don’t suffer…and I’ll tell you, after watching the feeding sessions, I’m not sorry for those happy little pudgy geese.

    BTW, their livers cannot be overfed to extreme levels because it changes the textures of the liver, and makese it unpalatable. Yeah, they’re fat, but not ridiculously obese.

    Just to let you know why I’m not afraid of lobes and gizzards, slaughtered hares, but am hesitant with non-free range chicken or hamburgers.

    Comment by nardac — December 21, 2004 @ 6:09 pm

  7. Mmmm lobes. Liver lobes don’t sound so tantalizing, but ear lobes. Miam!

    Comment by Nigel M. — December 21, 2004 @ 10:35 pm

  8. we had quite some trouble locating French Goose foie gras here in San Franciso for our christmas treat. We found some in the end and I even have a little competition (with prize, if anyone wants to enter, though the questioun may be a little US-centric) on my blog if you can guess where, in which store, we eventually made the purchase.
    That said, it is already easier to get American made Duck foie (or “lobes”) here. From what I have heard, they don’t actually force feed the ducks here, that they are just free range and greedy, therby fattening their own livers. I don’t know who told me that, but it sounds a little far from the truth to me.

    Comment by Sam — December 21, 2004 @ 11:30 pm

  9. A3 paper!! (falls off chair howling with laughter!!) But I took your advice and stopped right about the part where you talked about poultry being overfed…

    Comment by Van — December 22, 2004 @ 8:20 am

  10. My half-uncle Stanley Ane (who was French) used to do all that business with the geese, he was also a part time highwayman. He was known as Stan Ane De-Liver.

    Comment by brom-man — December 22, 2004 @ 10:16 am

  11. foie gras – DE-lightful stuff. i’m heartless, i know – but it’s all in a good cause. really.

    Comment by zed — December 22, 2004 @ 7:54 pm

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