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Why foie gras is not unethical

Over at Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt has a long piece about a visit he took to a foie gras producer in New York’s Hudson Valley and what he learned about the ethics of foie gras production.

Even if you haven’t eaten foie, pretty much everyone is familiar with the abhorrent images of mistreated ducks peddled by PETA and sites like, and indeed they are truly disturbing. Ducks crammed into wire cages just big enough to stand in with their filth-encrusted heads sticking out a hole in the front. Their feathers are scraggly and wiry (if present at all), there’s often blood coming out of their nostrils, and their faces and feathers are caked with vomit and corn meal. A duck drinks scummy water out of a communal trough running in front of it while just upstream one of its less fortuitous bunkmates sits dead with its head lolling sideways, half submerged in the cloudy green water.

I’ve no doubt that farms like this exist in the world, and it is a terrible, atrocious tragedy. If this is how all foie-or even all meat-is produced, I’d become a vegetarian today. But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck. Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I’m going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

So the real question is: is the production of foie gras torturous under even the best of conditions?

Those on one side would answer yes. How could force feeding an animal ever be considered anything but torture? On the other hand are those who claim that American foie farms are positively idyllic with ducks waddling around spacious pens, even queuing up for their gavage, that for a duck, none of the things we consider uncomfortable stress them out in the least. But who’s right?