The Goose Invented Cramming

Foie gras is decadent and rich because of the large amount of fat stored in the liver of the duck or goose.  How this fat gets there is through a process called cramming.  As the name implies, the bird is force-fed a large amount of food over a period of time until the appropriate level of “fattened-up” is attained.  The process is alternatively known as  gavage feeding (from French gaver, to force down the throat).  The practice of cramming has been in circulation since the ancient Egyptians; however, it was actually because of the wild geese themselves that the Egyptians learned how to cram.

geese flock

Geese are migratory birds that have to travel long distances to stay ahead of the weather. From Getty Images.

Prior to the taxing migration season where the geese travel thousands of kilometres without food, the birds must somehow build up enough energy to weather the journey.  What they do is eat.  A lot.  This excess of food energy transforms into fat stored in their liver, and when the Egyptians caught geese before their migration, they were treated to a ultra-rich version of the bird.  Eventually, someone pieced one and one together and what was originally a survival technique for the geese has become, ironically and morbidly, something that is quite the deplorable opposite.

foie gras gavage

Feed is administered through a long tube that goes down the bird's esophagus, fed by an electric pump.

Cramming is most widespread in France as this process must occur in order for the resulting liver to be classified legally as foie gras.  In other parts of the world, foie gras is not exclusively produced by cramming, instead timely slaughter that relies on the natural fattening up instinct during migration season of the geese is employed.

seared foie gras

Seared foie gras with ginger cream.

Whatever the method of attainment, foie gras, in all its plate-top incarnations (pâtés, terrines, mousses, roasted…), is subject to audible protest.  If you are passionate about the maltreatment of geese and ducks because of foie gras harvesting, check out No Foie Gras.org.

We do a lot of things to animals.  This is yet another thing that compels one to adopt staunch vegetarianism.  Fortunately for me, I cannot, for whatever reason, bear the taste of foie gras.  Its oiliness and distinct flavour makes my stomach churn.  Aside from the taste though, my stomach churns for another reason…

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Goose Invented Cramming

  1. Daigo

    Why exactly is gavage feeding cruel, exactly? In nature ducks swallow whole fish. Having a tube slid down their throats is hardly uncomfortable for them, largely because their esophageal lining is tougher than those of mammals for this purpose. Plus, they don’t choke the same way humans would because their trachea exits at the center of their tongue.

    • Gluttonize

      The cruelty comes from exploiting a natural process unnecessarily.
      It’s less about what the geese are anatomically capable of doing, but more about the reason they are forced to do so.
      Geese gorge themselves to brave lean seasons and long migrations. However, within the confines of the farm, they are forced-fed to produce a luxury food item.
      Furthermore, equating swallowing a fish to gavage feeding is hardly a fair comparison.

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