Last week, SeriousEats published a thought-provoking piece about foie gras production, claiming the process can be ethical and perfectly humane — if done correctly.

In Los Angeles, foie gras recently stirred up controversy when animal rights activists protested Providence for serving it. Could it be that many of us only know the worst case scenarios when it comes to foie gras?

In “The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical,” author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt takes the reader on a tour of La Belle Farms in New York, the second largest of the three foie gras farms in the United States, offering detail and photos of their process of their manufacturing process from start to finish. After the jump, some of his more interesting discoveries.

Bob [Ambrose, business partner and head of Bella Bella Gourmet, La Belle's line of prepared foods] is quick to point out, “Any mishandling of the ducks — rough treatment, that kind of thing — will cause bruising, reducing its price. So we've got a strong incentive to be gentle with the birds.” Duck handlers, who are mostly female (apparently ducks take better to women), work on an bonus-based program where their pay is bumped for every “A” grade lobe one of their charge produces. It's the first time I've heard of a farm that offers workers a monetary incentive to be gentler with the animals. Bob insists that it works, and that the most experienced feeders can increase the number of A lobes from the normal 55% up to over 70%.

As we watched, the worker — a petite woman — climbed into the pen and sat on an overturned box. One at a time, she pulled a duck towards her and held it between her legs with its neck arched upwards. She gently squeezed the base of the duck's neck (“checking to make sure that he's finished all his food from the last feeding,” says Bob), then eases a flexible plastic tube down the ducks throat. A machine whirls, a small bulge forms where the food is deposited, and the duck walks off, giving its head one shake, but otherwise seemingly unaffected.

According to Bob, when the feeder feels the duck's esophagus, if there's any food remaining, she'll skip that feeding. So while the ducks are technically force-fed, there is a level of built-in anatomical control so that the ducks can't take in any more food than they can physically handle. That's more respect than most fast food chains show for their human customers.

The piece also includes a video of a duck swallowing a fish, and uses it to explain why using a feeding tube is not inhumane:

Incredible, right? And that, folks, is the reason why ducks don't struggle when a feeding tube deposits food in its throat. Its body is built for exactly the same type of stress in the wild.

Jonathan Gold, who reminded us of Sarah DiGregorio's piece on foie gras production for the Village Voice, tells us, “Simply stated, badly treated birds don't make good foie gras. If for nothing more than economic reasons, foie gras ducks and geese are among the most pampered farm animals in the world. And given the opportunity, every seed-eating duck and goose would gorge itself until its liver bulged. The liver is where waterfowl store fat for the long flight south.”

Could it be we're missing the mark in outlawing foie gras, which is set to be banned in California in 2012? Should we instead simply be seeking to standardize its process of production? We invite you to weigh in with your comments.

LA Weekly