Last year, the city of Chicago passed a landmark ban on the sale of foie gras, making it the first city in the U.S. to take a stand against the cruelty inherent in the production of the indelicate “delicacy.” That ban is now in jeopardy, largely because of political chest-thumping and because the restaurant lobby is worried that—heaven forbid—it might lose the tiny fraction of its income derived from peddling diseased duck livers.
I’m pulling for the ducks in both Chicago and Philadelphia, where a similar ban has been proposed, and everywhere else.
I have recently come to know two Pekin ducks, and I now understand that they deserve to have someone in their corner. Quackers and Crackers (named by my 8-year-old daughter) have shown me that anyone who thinks ducks are worth no more than the sum of their body parts has never actually met a duck.
These ducks were rescued from a man who confined them to a small pen without puddles, clean water, or even much food. A third duck had died by the time the man reluctantly agreed to relinquish the two survivors. When they came to me, their legs were so thin that they could hardly support their emaciated bodies.
Their white feathers were covered with grime and their eyes were rimmed with red. I’ve since learned that ducks use fresh water to clean their feathers and eyes, but most ducks who are raised to be eaten are not given the opportunity to do this.
After some intensive nursing, the true personalities of Quackers and Crackers began to emerge. They have a zest for life that rivals that of any toddler or puppy (both of whom I have also seen in action). They love to play in mud almost as much as they love to splash in water and have quickly trained me to spray water on a section of the yard in order to create the duck equivalent of a sand box. Every morning, they tap dance through the fresh mud and splash each other, taking great delight in slapping their feet in the muck and giving each other proud looks when their webbed feet make loud smacking and sucking sounds. When they’re finished playing in the mud, they get down to the business of foraging for food in it and blowing bubbles as they find good things to eat.
Ducks, it seems, love to party, and they are adept at scouting out new sources of fun. When I turned on the sprinkler for the kids to play in, the ducks watched attentively and soon followed suit, running in and out of the spraying water and waggling their tails in delight. A bale of hay that I spread over a bare patch in the grass also turned into a source of amusement. Once Quackers had taken the initiative and checked out this strange new substance, Crackers joined her, and soon they were fully engaged in a mock hay-throwing battle.
Contrast this tremendous joy with the lives of birds raised for foie gras, who are often kept in cages and force-fed up to 4 pounds of grain and fat every day via a tube that is hooked up to a pneumatic pump and shoved down their throats. After several weeks of this abuse, the birds’ livers may expand to as much as 10 or 12 times their normal size, resulting in a disease known as “hepatic steatosis,” a.k.a. “foie gras.”
The birds often suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections, and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused when their livers fail. They can become so debilitated that they can only move by pushing themselves along the ground with their wings. A PETA investigator at a foie gras farm in New York saw a duck with a maggot-filled neck wound so severe that water spilled out of it when he drank.