Californians Head to Nevada to Buy Foie Gras

Foie gras packaged for sale.
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images
Foie gras packaged for sale.

Nevada boasts that it has a lot to offer Californians—no income taxes, no corporate taxes, fewer regulations.

And all the foie gras you can eat.

Almost six months after California banned the sale and production of foie gras, or fatty duck liver, a few dozen Californians were heading to Reno over the weekend to buy the contraband product. They were attending a foie gras tasting prepared and hosted by Laurel Pine, owner of Mirepoix USA, a gourmet food company we profiled last June.

Pine moved her business from California to Nevada last year in anticipation of the ban. "My sales have actually doubled, so the ban has been a very good thing for my business." She says all the publicity around the outlawing of foie gras drew attention to the product.

Some long-time liver lovers stocked up, spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars. Others tried foie gras for the first time to see what the fuss was all about. "It's actually increased interest in the product more than ever."

Foie gras is made from livers that have been plumped up to several times their normal size through force feeding, a process called gavage. Animal rights activists call it cruel. Supporters of foie gras say it is not, that ducks don't have a gag reflex. California lawmakers took the side of animal rights groups in banning the product, but it is still legal in California to possess foie gras. Many chefs and foodies are crossing state lines to buy it or making purchases online from out-of-state sellers.

It appears there has been little effort to enforce the new law. Last month, PETA sued one Southern California restaurant,Hot's Kitchen, claiming it's violating the law for giving away foie gras as a free side dish. The restaurant's parent company, Hot's Restaurant Group, believes if there's no sale involved, there's no violation. Earlier this year the company filed its own lawsuit against the state seeking to overturn the ban.

As much as 80 percent of Laurel Pine's annual foie gras sales happen over the holidays. She was very careful about revealing her location in Reno for fear of protesters showing up. They did earlier this year when the location of a secret party she was holding in San Francisco was leaked to PETA.

"I don't think anyone who currently was enjoying foie gras has stopped eating it," she said while preparing foie gras torchon on toasted brioche and scooped foie gras ice cream onto ginger cookies. "I think they're finding ways to get it, and I don't think anyone has changed their minds about how they feel about eating foie gras." When asked if she thinks the process of force feeding ducks is cruel, she quickly replies, "Not at all...I wouldn't be in this business if I did."