Back straight, lips pursed, you’re seated at an elegant restaurant on the Upper East Side scanning the menu when the waiter approaches.
“Do you all have any questions?”
Your dinner partner is also reading the menu when their eyebrows knit and they ask innocently, ignorantly, “So, how’s the foie gras made?”
Embarrassment ripples through your body as you silently curse them for forcing a waiter to take accountability for an unsavory reality of fine dining.
“Well…” the waiter starts hesitantly, “Actually, our foie gras is made in Brooklyn. We produce it in bioreactors!”
It’s becoming commonplace for restaurant patrons to inquire about their food’s origins. Yet, satirical depictions of highly curious customers can still be pretty funny. Although the scene we described of a waiter, armed with the origin story of Brooklyn bioreactor foie gras, certainly has an element of humor, we see it as a perfectly serious possibility.
Foie gras, or the fatty liver of a duck or goose, is one of the most iconic French dishes. Yet, chefs shrink away from the foie gras story because it is a controversial one. Great food transcends simple culinary skill; the best chefs are storytellers. Food presents an opportunity to share narratives about culture, creativity, and values. At GOURMEY, we’re ready to rewrite the foie gras story.
As the future of conventional foie gras appears increasingly perilous, cultured foie gras’ foray into the culinary world is long overdue, and it may be the ideal cultured product across the board.
Foie gras is already being banned
Regardless of your stance on the morality of foie gras, a growing number of lawmakers are banning it. Foie gras production is already banned in seventeen countries, and consumption is even illegal in a few places, including India and California. In 2022, New York City’s foie gras ban will go into effect, removing foie gras from shelves and menus in the biggest market in the United States. At present, about 1000 restaurants in NYC serve foie gras. In many places, cultured foie gras won’t only be the best option, it will be the only option.
Controversy, falling favorability, and an underestimated market
Conventional foie gras production has long been a source of controversy. Non-cultured foie gras is produced through a process called gavage or force-feeding. Tubes are forced down the throats of geese and ducks so they can be fed up to four pounds of high-fat meals daily. This process swells their livers to several times their original size.
A lesser-known aspect of foie gras production is that foie gras is only made from male geese and ducks. In France alone, around 30 million female ducks are killed annually because they can’t be used for foie gras.
When foie gras is cultured, no force-feeding is required and no animals are slaughtered.
Conventional foie gras is losing favorability fast. As more people learn how foie gras is made, they are starting to spend their money elsewhere.
Even the French, who are famously loyal to their culinary traditions, are more willing than ever to part ways with foie gras. When polled in 2017, 37 percent of French people said that they do not buy foie gras due to concerns about how it’s produced. If given the choice, 75 percent responded that they’d prefer foie gras produced without force feeding. These numbers are rising, yet, notably, it seems that consumers would continue to enjoy foie gras if they could alleviate their concerns about production methods.
If the French, one of the most gastronomically sentimental cultures, are willing to part with foie gras, imagine how many people in the world with no allegiances to French cuisine are passing on foie gras. When cultured foie gras is available, this growing alliance can reconcile their morals with their meals and enjoy foie gras guilt-free. Foie gras may experience unprecedented popularity.
Foie gras is an iconic dish from an iconic cuisine
Integrating novel food products into existing traditions is challenging. Fortunately, foie gras is embedded in a rich culinary and cultural history. French cuisine is iconic globally and associated with high-quality, thoughtful food. Foie gras’ ability to introduce cultured meat through French food will accelerate its acceptance and pave the way for other cultured products.
Cultured foie gras has technical advantages
Beyond the cultural and culinary advantages, foie gras’ biological characteristics give it technical advantages. Foie gras requires only one cell type and its texture, which is buttery, makes it one of the more straightforward products to cultivate. Because of its texture, foie gras doesn’t need scaffolding, the biomaterials providing structural support in the fibrous texture of meat products. Scaffolding is a major bottleneck of the cultured meat field, posing both technical and cost challenges.
Cultured foie gras can achieve price parity
Foie gras is a premium product with a pound costing as much as $US100. Achieving price parity or at least a price consumers are willing to pay is a major challenge for cultured meat startups. Cultured foie gras is one of the very few products that isn’t positioned to experience this challenge. In fact, consumers are comfortable with foie gras’ reputation as a premium product with low-end foie gras accounting for only 10–20 percent of the market.
Significant sustainability advantages
Foie gras is expensive because it is incredibly labor and resource-intensive to produce. By weight, foie gras is even worse for the environment than beef, the typical culprit for meat with the highest footprint. As a result of the frequent force-feeding, foie gras requires significantly more labor than other meat products and several times more feed. Also, geese and ducks take much longer to raise to maturity than chickens. GOURMEY’s cultured foie gras provides the same experience as conventional foie gras while using only a fraction of the resources.
A new narrative
While foie gras may be the ideal cultured meat, it’s only chapter one of GOURMEY’s aspirations for igniting the cultured meat revolution. It’s time to untangle meat from controversy and climate change, so chefs can proudly tell stories of innovation, resilience, and delicious food.
With our French roots and team of passionate scientists, GOURMEY is uniquely positioned to democratize and decarbonize foie gras. Cultured foie gras preserves the culinary heritage that unites us while embracing the innovation that drives humanity forward. In the face of mounting bans and an increasingly discontent consumer base, foie gras is approaching an existential crossroads. Yet, we don’t see foie gras as a relic of the past.
In fact, we think it’s just getting started.