- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This is not a good time to be a duck with a fatty liver in California, though better times are just ahead.

Chefs are loading their high-end menus with duck liver: Terrine de foie gras, seared foie gras with mango chutney, foie gras salad and sweet foie gras for dessert.

And they are keeping secret the locations of their multi-course dinners to avoid protesters as a July 1 ban looms in California, the only state to outlaw foie gras.

Demand for the delicacy created by force-feeding ducks through funnel-like tubes has never been higher, as diners sate their palates with a product that soon will be banned for production and sale in the Golden State.

“The price has doubled. People are finding it hard to get it because the demand is so high,” said Tracy Lee of the San Jose-based traveling dining service Dishcrawl, which has organized a series of 15 secret, sold-out foie gras dinners. Her last one is Thursday.

“We have had steady growth in demand … with a significant increase in sales in the month of May,” said Guillermo Gonzalez of Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, the state’s only producer. He said some buyers are new customers who, because of the publicity, want to try it for the first time.

While gourmands stockpile foie gras at $60 a pound, others are stomaching the frenetic food fest with disdain.

“High-end foodies and chefs stuffing down their throats excessive amounts of fatty liver from force-fed ducks in the run-up to the ban paint a pretty ironic picture,” said Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States.

As the California foie gras feeding frenzy escalates, protesters in San Francisco and Los Angeles are staking out restaurants and even making reservations to tie up seats at dinners they know they’ll never attend.

It’s why Ms. Lee doesn’t publicize the restaurants where her dinners will be held until a day before the date.

“So far we haven’t had any protesters, which has been nice,” she said.

When it voted in 2004 to ban producing and selling foie gras, the California Legislature gave Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras more than seven years to come up with a cruelty-free way to fatten a duck’s liver. Absent that, a coalition of chefs have mounted a lobbying campaign to try to overturn the law in the future, and the foie gras dinners are funding that ongoing effort.

The California ban, which maintains that over-feeding ducks using a pipe stuffed down the esophagus is cruel, comes as four animal welfare groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month, making another point about foie gras.

They hope to secure a national prohibition by arguing the USDA is violating the Poultry Products Inspection Act by allowing “diseased birds” to enter the food chain.

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