(The Blaze/AP) This is not a good time to be a duck with a fatty liver in California, though better times lie just ahead.
Chefs are loading their high-end menus with duck liver: terrine de foie gras, seared foie gras with mango chutney, foie gras salad and sweet foie gras for dessert. And they are keeping secret the locations of their multi-course dinners to avoid protesters as a July 1 ban looms in California, the only state to outlaw foie gras.
Demand for the delicacy has never been higher as diners sate their palates with a product that soon will be banned for production and sale in the Golden State.
"The price has doubled. People are finding it hard to get it because the demand is so high," said Tracy Lee of the San Jose-based traveling dining service Dishcrawl, which has organized a series of 15 secret, sold-out foie gras dinners. Her last one is Thursday.
"We have had steady growth in demand ... with a significant increase in sales in the month of May," said Guillermo Gonzalez of Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, the state's only producer. He said some are new customers who, because of the publicity, want to try it for the first time.
While gourmands stockpile foie gras at $60 a pound (over $120 a kilogram), others are stomaching the frenetic food fest with disdain.
"High-end foodies and chefs stuffing down their throats excessive amounts of fatty liver from force-fed ducks in the run-up to the ban paint a pretty ironic picture," said Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States.
As the California foie gras feeding frenzy escalates, protesters in San Francisco and Los Angeles are staking out restaurants and even making reservations to tie up seats at dinners they know they'll never attend.
Because, you know, disrupting a private business in the middle of this economy will teach everyone to love ducks or something.
"Many people don't know what foie gras is or how it's produced and they're horrified when we tell them," said Dana Portnoy, who shot undercover video inside a foie gras operation and organizes the San Francisco-area protests. "Occasionally we'll run into antagonistic patrons, but that's usually when we're protesting at the foie gras benefit dinners."
It's why Lee doesn't publicize the restaurants where her dinners will be held until a day before the date.
"So far we haven't had any protesters, which has been nice," she said.
As a July 1 deadline looms for foie gras nears, chefs across the state are loading their menus with the fatty duck liver and even holding secret dinners to avoid protesters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The California legislature gave the state's only producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, more than seven years to come up with a “cruelty-free” way to fatten the duck's liver when in 2004 it voted in the ban on producing and selling foie gras. Absent that, a coalition of chefs have mounted a lobbying campaign to try to overturn the law in the future, and the foie gras dinners are funding that ongoing effort.
The California ban comes as four animal welfare groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month, making another point about foie gras.
They hope to secure a national prohibition by arguing that USDA is violating the Poultry Products Inspection Act by allowing "diseased birds" to enter the food chain.
Foie gras -- French for "fatty liver" -- is made from a feeding process called "gavage" where the duck's liver is swollen to 10 times its normal size, which the lawsuit argues is acute hepatic lipidosis, a condition linked to obesity in animals.