Foie gras is on menus at some of the best restaurants in the Valley.
But tomorrow, a group of protesters will do their best to shed a different light on the culinary delicacy -- and they'll do it in front of a well-respected Phoenix restaurant, James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross' Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge.
From 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday night, a group of people led by activist Dani Thumma will hold up signs and pass out literature in protest of the restaurant's use of foie gras on its French bistro-style menu.
Thumma, a 49-year-old grandmother who lives in Peoria, wrote Gross a letter, informing him about the production of foie gras, and later spoke to him on the phone. "They're going to keep foie gras on the menu," she says, "so we decided to protest."
When Thumma informed Gross that they would be protesting, "He said he couldn't wait to meet me," Thumma says.
She has just begun to put together a small group of concerned citizens in Arizona who are working to educate the public on foie gras production -- and to get chefs to remove the dish from their menus. She says that her group, which is so far made up of about 10 people, gets a lot of help from the Animal Protection and Rescue League as well as an organization called In Defense of Animals. This will be their very first protest.
"Why me?" Gross asked one of the protesters in an on-going email conversation. He says it's mostly because of location.
When confronted with this issue, as he has been before, Gross says his first question is always, "Are you a vegetarian?" They usually say yes. Then, he asks, "Do you eat eggs?" If they say yes, as they often do, Gross tells them, "You should maybe look at an egg farm."
He says, considering the number of people who actually eat foie gras, and the amount of money and time that goes into fighting it, the resources could be better spent elsewhere.
"Sometimes I think it's funny," Gross says, "that so much money is being spent on something that affects so few."
Gross also says that he buys his foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, where the ducks are not kept in cages (one of the complaints of anti-foie gras activists) but in corrals.
Though Thumma has had no luck with Gross, she was successful once before. After writing a letter to Louis Germain, the chef and owner of Le Sans Souci in Cave Creek, Thumma says that he replied with a note saying that he would indeed stop serving the dish as of December 24, 2008. When she checked back on the due date, she found that he had done it.
"I was really surprised," she says. She was ready to take action.
So, why all the fuss?
Male ducks and geese are force-fed grain through pipes that are put down their throats, in order to make their livers enlarge. The enlarged livers are what you eat when you order "fat liver," or foie gras, at a restaurant.
Foie gras production has been banned in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Isreal, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic because it is considered inhumane.
In the United States, foie gras has only been banned in California, a law that will be implemented in 2012. The city of Chicago overturned their ban on it last year. But there is no national ban in the U.S, and, here, it's up to the chefs whether or not to serve the dish. In any case, animal rights groups are fighting hard against it -- and they'll be out this weekend at the Biltmore in Phoenix.
Thumma says they are expecting 17 to 20 people at the protest, which will be repeated at the same time next Saturday.
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It may be a small group, but, according to Thumma, "Someone has to say something."
Gross is taking it all in stride.
"I might go out and bring them water," he tells us, adding, "I was contemplating having an employee dress up as a duck."