California town becomes front line in foie gras fight

Animal-rights advocates call for ban on product

November 30, 2003|By Rone Tempest | Rone Tempest,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SONOMA, Calif. - Michael Bilger, chef at the tony Restaurant Caneros, has it on his Christmas menu: "Seared foie gras with persimmon bread pudding and pomegranate gastrique."

Carlo-Alessandro Cavallo, owner and chef at the celebrated Sonoma Meritage restaurant, likes to serve his foie gras northern Italian-style, wrapped in ravioli and drenched in a white truffle butter-and-sage sauce.

Both chefs were steamed this month when animal-rights advocates presented the Sonoma City Council with a petition to ban the sale of foie gras in this California capital of wine and haute cuisine.

Drafted by In Defense of Animals, an organization based in Marin County, Calif., the petition contends that the centuries-old process of force-feeding ducks and geese to produce the fattened-liver delicacy constitutes cruelty to animals.

After hearing presentations from both sides, the City Council took no action on the proposal. "We are neither going to debate or vote on the foie gras issue," said a testy Mayor Dick Ashford, who was surrounded by television cameras in the cramped council meeting space. City attorneys have even questioned the town's authority to ban a food product legally produced in the state.

But, like it or not, this quaint wine-and-cheese tourist town has become the front line in the ongoing foie gras war.

Over the past several months, In Defense of Animals and other groups have focused their attention on Sonoma Foie Gras - one of only two major producers in the United States - and several upscale Northern California restaurants.

In August, vandals staged an attack on Sonoma Saveurs, a new food specialty shop under construction on the historic Sonoma town square. The building was flooded and the walls defaced with anti-foie gras graffiti. The shop, scheduled to open later this year, bills itself as a "fine food boutique featuring artisan foie gras."

In Defense of Animals founder Dr. Elliot M. Katz, a veterinarian, has condemned the attack but said he sympathizes with the motives. "Balanced against the suffering that the animals go through, the vandalism is a minor nuisance," said Katz, a vegan who avoids meat and leather products.

The vandalism, classified by police as "terrorism," outraged many people here who have helped build the town's image as an culinary tourist destination.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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