California’s Foie Gras Ban Proves Once Again That Prohibition Doesn’t Work

Foie Gras

California became famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, a few weeks ago when it became the first state to ban the traditional method of producing foie gras, the fatty substance dervice from duck and goose liver that is considering something of a gourmet delicacy.

The reason for the ban had nothing to do with the health arguments that have been made in recent years about foie gras, but because animal rights advocates contended that the method of production, which involves feeding the animals large amounts of food in a short period of time, was cruel. There are other methods of producing foie gras, but it’s generally accepted that these alternative methods produce a vastly inferior product. As a result, some California restaurants have resorted to creative legal arguments to allow them to keep making the product available, while other Californians are engaging in a practice that is reminiscent of the era when alcohol was banned in the United States:

On July 15, about a dozen people walked into a cozy San Francisco restaurant with a window sign reading “private event” to savor foie gras, California’s newest forbidden fruit.

They paid $100 apiece for “a 10-course tasting of quasi- legal goodness,” according to the online notice for the “Duckeasy” event. Each received an e-mail with the address only hours before the first sandwich of Wonder bread, grape jelly and foie gras mousse was served.


Two weeks after California’s ban on selling and producing the fatty duck liver, chefs are hosting clandestine events, offering it as a free side dish or selling it to regulars without listing it on the menu.

In an unscientific survey, four of eight restaurants visited in the two weeks since the ban offered foie gras. Four that had it on their menus before the ban refused to serve it when asked.

David Rieken, 49, a personal assistant from San Francisco who discovered the Duckeasy dinner through a friend, said he was drawn in part because of its secretive nature.

“I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a certain exclusivity that is cool and a defiance against a law that we think is rooted in double standards,” Rieken said while sipping a glass of French red wine before dinner.

This should be entirely familiar to anyone who understands the history of Prohibition or the War On Drugs. Any time you try to ban something that people desire, they’ll find ways around the law. In this case, you have restaurant owners who are finding ways to get around the law by offering the foie gras for free (although that’s hardly a sustainable strategy given its cost) or, in one case, arguing that the California law does not apply to them because they are located on Federal land on the grounds of the Presidio in San Francisco. And you have these “Duckeasys,” an obvious refernece to the Speakeasies that were common in pretty much every American city during the era when alcohol was illegal. I’m sure that if this ban stays in force, you’ll see other creative methods used by customers and restauranteurs to either get around or just outright ignore the law. In the end, of course, Californians can just travel to Nevada, Oregon, or one of the other states that borders California to get their foie gras fix. The ban will become largely meaningless.

Prohibition creates defiance of the law. It’s an age old story that you would think government would learn by now. After all, the more laws like this that are passed that people just ignore with impunity, the less respect they have for the law in general, and specifically those laws that ban things that we want to be banned, like actions that violate the rights of other people. A foie gras ban isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it creates a disregard for the law that, while it may be something I tend to cheer on as a libertarian, also arguably causes problems for society in general. Stop paassing stupid laws like this, legislators, and maybe we’ll have more respect for the work you’re actually supposed to be doing.

H/T: Rod Dreher

Photo via Wikimedia Commons via a Free Content License

The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.