A group of 14 chef associations have invited critics of foie gras to visit a farm or production workshop in person to see how the controversial delicacy is made after several mayors banned the food from official receptions.
The invitation was part of a “manifesto of support” for the French foie gras industry and called the dish “a cultural and gastronomic heritage” and “an excellent food” which must be preserved.
The chefs called on the green (EELV) mayors to “come see the quality of the production methods” for themselves, by visiting a farm, a gavage or production workshop.
They denounced what they called a “disinformation campaign and weaponisation of a symbol of French gastronomy by the extremist vegan association PETA”, and called on the mayors in France who have banned the food to reconsider.
The associations to sign the manifesto of support include l’Académie culinaire de France, l’Association des toques françaises, les Meilleurs ouvriers de France, Guillaume Gomez, the president’s representative on gastronomy, les Toques blanches lyonnaises, le Groupement national des indépendants hôtellerie et restauration and l’Association française des maîtres restaurateurs.
Ban on foie gras
It comes as Lyon became the third major city in France to ban foie gras from official mairie events on cruelty grounds. It followed Grenoble and Strasbourg, and Villeurbanne, a commune that forms part of the wider Lyon metropolis.
Green mayor of Grenoble, Éric Piolle, went further, and said that the production of foie gras is “a French shame”.
Sandra Krief, a municipal councillor in Grenoble, told France 3: “It’s a product that comes from the worst possible practices. The continuation of the production of foie gras is not a French tradition, but a French shame.”
‘Stop supporting hypocrisy’
The chefs are not the only ones to hit back against the ban. A group of 56 councillors in Dordogne has also signed their own manifesto, entitled “Let us be proud of our foie gras and artisans”.
The open letter, spearheaded by MP Jean-Pierre Cubertafon, said: “Despite what some people may say, the vast majority of foie gras is produced in France in small-scale, ethical farms that comply with strict quality standards.
“At a time when the detractors of foie gras are multiplying, let's be proud of our gastronomic identity and our products,” the letter continues.
“Let's defend our craftsmen and small producers, let's stop stigmatising these representatives of French gastronomy, and let's stop supporting the hypocrisy of a few elected officials in need of recognition."
Mr Cubertafon also extended an invitation to detractors to “to come to Périgord”, so that “they will see that these products are prepared in the best possible conditions”.
He said that those who ban foie gras are city dwellers who have “total ignorance of reality".
Last week, Chef Christophe Marguin, head chef at the Le Président restaurant in Lyon, also came out against the decision.
He called the Lyon mayor’s decision a PR stunt and accused her of not being interested in food or in holding dialogue with chefs or farmers.
He said: “We are lucky to have marvellous products in France, including foie gras. Farmers have been making major efforts in recent years to make sure the animals do not suffer. We have exceptional products, and I think as chefs we have to continue showing their value.
“It’s a major source of pride to value our ‘terroir’ through these products.”
‘Foie gras cannot be ecologically responsible’
But not all chefs agree.
Chef Antonin Bonnet, from the Quinsou restaurant in the 6th arrondissement in Paris, who was not among the manifesto’s signatories, said that the use of foie gras should be done “with good sense, and when in season”, but said it ”cannot be ecologically responsible”.
He told Libération: “For me, it's a festive product, I serve it between November and February, and that's it. Every product has a season. Eating foie gras in summer doesn't make sense, especially as ducks naturally gorge themselves before winter.
“But if you force-feed an animal, you are not doing it any good, even if you do it with love. From the moment you kill an animal, there are no ethics.”
The chef said that banning the food just before Christmas was a bad move. He said: “Rather than making a fuss, we should raise awareness. People will continue to eat foie gras, they’ll just buy it from abroad.
“We should let people live, instead of transforming Christmas into a miserable occasion where we expect people to make lentil soup and drink fruit juice. While we’re at it, let’s ban chocolate log and the galette des rois…they’re not exactly eco-friendly products either.”
The rise of ‘faux gras’
In contrast, in 2013, the late Michelin-starred chef Joel Robuchon suspended his collaboration with the Ernest Soulard company, which was criticised at the time by animal welfare association L-214 for its foie gras production (it was later found not to be in breach of regulations).
Some chefs have stopped using the product altogether; French Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier, who works at Gauthier Soho in London, has himself become vegan and works with ‘false foie gras’, or ‘faux gras’, instead of the traditional product.
‘Faux gras’ is a vegetarian alternative, it is a purely vegetable and organic product.
It can also be found in France in organic and health food shops, such as Eau Vive, la Vie Claire, and Biocoop – but in other countries such as Belgium, it can already be found in mainstream supermarkets including Carrefour, Intermarché, and Lidl.
Yet, figures suggest that the majority of people in France are not necessarily against real foie gras. A poll by consumer site LSA found that 75% of people in France saw foie gras as an integral part of the food of the festive season, while 70% said they ate it at least once a year.
Even the green presidential candidate, Yannick Jadot, has said that he would not vote for a total ban on what he calls a “luxury” product. During a TV debate on FranceInfo yesterday, he even said that he himself eats foie gras – but only the “artisanal” kind.