by Barbara Berkeley, MD
It's an expensive delicacy that appears on the menus of fine restaurants world-wide. Foie Gras is goose liver, but not just any old liver. Specifically it is the super smooth and tasty liver of geese or ducks which have been overfed with carbohydrates until their livers fill with fat. The translation of Foie Gras is pretty blunt. It means Fat Liver. Since geese will generally avoid eating until they are sick, the fattening process is accomplished by forcing a "gavage" tube down the throat and force feeding the birds. Yum.
According to French law, "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France."
While the French lay claim to Foie Gras, the techniques of goose-fattening go much further back in recorded history. Both the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Romans fattened birds by force-feeding.
The Eyptian relief to the left shows farmers force feeding birds.
The Romans tended to use dried figs, which have a high sugar content.
"Apicius made the discovery, that we may employ the same artificial method of increasing the size of the liver of the sow, as of that of the goose; it consists in cramming them with dried figs, and when they are fat enough, they are drenched with wine mixed with honey, and immediately killed."
— Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book VIII. Chapter 77
Today's geese and ducks are first fed a high starch diet and then moved to force-feeding. According to Wikipedia, "The feed, usually corn boiled with fat (to facilitate ingestion), deposits large amounts of fat in the liver, thereby producing the buttery consistency sought by the gastronome."
( By the way: As an animal lover, I was highly disturbed by researching this post. If you would like to learn more about this process from the point of view of animal cruelty, start with Wikipedia and move on to Google.)
Leaving issues of ethical treatment aside for a moment, Foie Gras should be a crucial wake-up call for our ever-fatter nation. We may eat the fatted goose, but do we recognize that we are the ones being led to the slaughter?
Fat Liver is reaching epidemic proportions in human beings. It is occurring for the same reason as it occurs in geese. Force feeding of carbohydrates. Want to fatten up a bird? Stuff corn down its throat. Want to fatten up a cow? Take it off grass and start stuffing it full of grain. Want to fatten up a horse? Stop it from grazing and feed it corn, oats and molasses (a mix called "sweet feed"). Want to fatten up a person? Feed him sweet feed--in other words, the starchy, sugary standard American diet.
As part of the animal kingdom, we adhere to the rules set up by nature. The foods that we were built to eat are the foods that we eat without peril. Neither geese, cows, horses nor people were built to eat unlimited amounts of grain, starches and sugars.
As we can easily see with animals, it is not the ingestion of fat which makes them fat. It is the ingestion of carbohydrate. Mix carbs with fat and you have an even more toxic mix.
The liver handles overloads of sugars (and remember that starches become sugar when digested) by forming fat droplets inside itself. When the liver gets as fatty as that of the goose, it starts to get seriously unhappy. It gets inflamed and sick. The inflammation that occurs causes scars to form inside the liver itself. We docs call this process of scarring "cirrhosis".
In the past few years, we have developed a tremendous tendency to create liver damage. Cirrhosis is no longer a disease confined to alcoholics. Fatty liver, scarring and cirrhotic livers are just as likely to be coming from what we eat and how much.
This article, from England's "The Guardian" will give you a good idea of the magnitude of the problem. I can tell you that fatty liver and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is epidemic in my own practice.
Unfortunately, doctors are doing the same thing with fatty liver as they tend to do with elevated blood sugar. They tend to minimize the problem rather than sounding an alarm. "You have a litte fatty liver" has become the companion to "You have a slightly elevated sugar". These findings should trigger the flashing red lights! All hands on deck!!! Now is the time to intervene, BEFORE the diabetes establishes itself and BEFORE the permanent liver scarring takes hold.
You cannot live without a liver or a pancreas. If someone tells you that one (or both) of these organs is under attack, you should take action immediately.
Geese have to be held down and a tube shoved into their throat in order to make them overeat. There has been some talk of creating lesions in the appetite area of these birds. Destroying this area destroys their ability to know when to stop eating. Thus, no more tubes would be needed. They would simply eat themselves into oblivion.
Humans on the Standard American Diet have disabled and distorted appetite centers. We are like geese with a brain lesion, eating foods that have the ability to slowly destroy us without having the ability to make any connection to the reality.
In order to control any problem associated with obesity---whether it be fatty liver, high blood sugar, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol---the key maneuver is getting off the SAD. Reducing carbohydates (sugars, grains, starches) to levels that are in line with what we genetically expect is the best way to also change our addictive responses to food.
I am not minimizing the difficulties of creating a brand new way of eating and sustaining it. But I am arguing for its vital importance.
France may believe that it has the corner on Foie Gras--but in reality, America is the Fat Liver capital of the world.