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California's Foie Gras Ban Was Overturned. Now See How It Passed in the First Place.

Special interests, threats, and propaganda

A U.S. District Court judge overturned California's ban on foie gras earlier this week, as Baylen Linnekin noted. The French delicacy engenders great passion in supporters and detractors alike, as Nick Gillespie discovered earlier this week after he praised the decision in the (digital) pages of Time magazine and received some tempered and even-handed criticism:

Time Magazine hits all time low with pathetic @nickgillespie article on #foiegras. Will he vote back #slavery too? @TIME shame

Farmers produce foie gras by force-feeding ducks or geese to produce an extra fatty liver, a technique farmers say mimics the tendency of wild fowl to gorge before a long migration and which animal activists say amounts to torture.

We delved more deeply into that debate in a Reason TV video produced before California enacted the ban, and even then the rhetoric and tactics were at times ugly, with chefs complaining of vandalism and death threats, and Bryan Pease, the animal rights activist who led the fight against foie gras, admitting on camera that he regularly trespassed onto farmers' property to videotape alleged abuses.

Watch the video for the full backstory behind California's foie gras fight. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. About 6 minutes. Original release date was January 19, 2012. Original writeup is below:

Chicago tried banning it. Now California wants to do the same. But what's so controversial about foie gras, the fattened liver of a duck or goose that many diners consider a delicacy?

"Foie gras is universally cruel," says animal rights activist and founder of the Animal Protection and Rescue League Bryan Pease.

Pease led the fight against foie gras in California, which often got ugly and scary, but he feels that it was all worth it now that the ban on the production of the food product will go into effect this summer.  

"This isn't a product that anyone thinks should be consumed, really," says Pease, "except for a small group of chefs and promoters."

Mark Pastore, owner of Incanto restaurant in San Francsico, believes that animal activists, who have threatened him and Incanto's chef Chris Cosentino, bullied their way into a legislative victory through intimidation and inflated rhetoric.

"I believe that the only way to deal with bullying tactics is to stand up to them," says Pastore, who started serving foie gras after his fellow chef had acid thrown on his car and received a threatening video of his family and notes reading "stop or be stopped" from anti-foie gras activists.  

So is the process of force-feeding ducks to produce foie gras cruel, as Pease alleges? Not so, says lawyer and director of Keep Food Legal, Baylen Linnekin. 

"Foie gras is not the result of cruel practice," says Linnekin. "It's a bird that can digest or can swallow a fish whole--a large fish." He also points out that ducks and geese are migratory birds that gorge themselves on food in nature before a winter migration, which is how foie gras, a dish dating back to ancient Egypt, came about in the first place.

The animal activists seem to have won the California foie gras fight for now, but Linnekin says that in the wake of the overturned Chicago ban, he's still optimistic about the future of food freedom.

"Ultimately, choice trumps," says Linnekin. "It should, and it does. Individual rights are the most important things we have as Americans."

Written and produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Christopher Sharif Matar and Zach Weissmueller.

Approximately 6 minutes.

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