Animal Equality UK: Britons don't want to eat foie gras, so why are chefs still serving it?

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

In June 2017, Animal Equality UK launched a campaign to ban the import of foie gras into the UK.

Production is already prohibited in the UK, but the fatty goose (or duck) liver has a protected status in France, where most of the world's stocks come from. 

Toni Shephard, the UK executive director of animal rights organisation Animal Equality, said she and her colleagues had visited dozens of farms in France and Spain, capturing footage of conditions she described as "horrific." According to a poll run by the group, fewer than 10 percent of the population in the UK consume foie gras. In another survey, 77 percent of respondents said they supported a ban on the import of foie gras. 

Seared Foie Gras with Mission Fig and Balsamic Reduction -
Image: Foie gras and calamansi lime, 
H. Alexander Talbot, Wikimedia Commons

On this basis, the group felt it was inappropriate for publicly-funded institutions to serve foie gras, so they appealed to places like the Tate Modern, the Royal Festival Hall and the Wallace Collection.

They organised protests, asked their social media followers to contact them through their own channels,  and spoke to their communications teams. 

The campaigns were successful. 

Then, they contacted independent restaurants, like Bluebird in Chelsea, who also conceded to stop serving foie gras.

The first step when appealing to restaurants is always private; the group contacts institutions directly, sending them footage and asking them to remove the product. 

Protests, like that which took place at The Duck and Waffle last weekend, are a last resort.

The purpose, explained Toni, is not to cause disruption to the restaurant, but rather inform often unknowing customers that the restaurant serves foie gras and let them decide whether or not they still wish to eat there. 

She said: "We're certainly not in any way aggressive to the customers or to the staff for that matter because it's probably only one person who is involved in deciding to have the item on the menu. And most of the other people probably have no idea what's involved in its production. So we're all very friendly and treat everyone with respect and just assume that most of them are not aware of what it's about."

Alexis Gauthier
Image: Alexis Gauthier, chef
owner of Gauthier Soho

This is the crux of it: chefs ultimately decide to keep foie gras on the menu. But why? 

There are alternatives: Spanish farmer Eduardo Sousa makes gavage-free foie gras, but, he told The Third Plate author Dan Barber, chefs buying his product are few and far between. 

Toni explained: "I'd probably assume that most chefs know what foie gras production entails and feel that it's a unique flavour that can't be replicated and therefore they choose to still put it on the menu."  

The onus falls on chefs to decide whether taste supersedes customer requirements, but in the age of user generated content, having foie gras on their menus could cost them their reputation and their business. 

"Public opinion is very strong in Britain in favour of animal welfare and any institution that really seems to be completely disregarding animal welfare - and you could argue that's serving a product that's actually illegal to produce here  - Britons will just see that as being out of step with the culture. 

"Most people really do value animal welfare in this country and they might choose to take their business elsewhere," she added. 

She argued that chefs like Michelin-starred Alexis Gauthier, who, after watching footage of its production, not only stopped serving  foie gras, but introduced a vegan tasting menu, have shown that it is possible to create accolade-worthy food without it. 

Perhaps that with chefs, it isn't a matter of knowing how foie gras is produced, but the PR barrier between them and groups like Animal Equality, preventing a reasoned dialog. 

What are your thoughts? Do you think foie gras should be banned? Should chefs let customers decide with their feet? Are cruelty-free alternatives too expensive? 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 12th April 2019

Animal Equality UK: Britons don't want to eat foie gras, so why are chefs still serving it?