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How NYC Activists and Lawmakers Achieved a Foie Gras Ban in the Nation’s Gastronomic Capital

November 8, 2019 by Leave a Comment

The News

In spite of being heralded as one of the most progressive cities in the United States, New York has lagged behind several other major cities in advancing the rights of animals.  In fact, from 2006 to 2013, at a time when animal rights was beginning to be embraced by the mainstream public, the most powerful lawmaker in New York City, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, blocked every meaningful legislative effort to improve even the basic welfare of animals. In recent years, however, a new crop of lawmakers in New York City has championed both animal welfare and animal rights legislation.

The City Council passed its first signature animal rights bill, a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, in 2017. To the delight of animal rights activists and many City Council members, that historic moment was upstaged on October 30th, 2019, when the Council passed a package of 11 bills and resolutions to help companion animals, wild animals and animals killed for food. During the vote, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the most animal-friendly Speaker in the Council’s history, gleefully stated, “The Council will be voting on a lot of bills – a lot of bills and resolutions that will strengthen our existing animal welfare laws in New York City.”

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk is force fed during a foie gras protest at Fortnum & Mason, a gourmet food store  in London

The most controversial of the bills was a ban on sale of foie gras in restaurants and stores. According to the New York Times, an estimated 1,000 restaurants sell foie gras in New York City, which is arguably the gastronomic capital of the country. In spite of the risk of criticism from the prominent chefs and the media, City Council Member Carlina Rivera introduced and championed the legislation.

In addition to being force fed until their livers swell to ten times their normal size, ducks and geese killed for foie gras are raised in factories where these aquatic animals have no access to water.

In 2006, Council Member Alan Gerson attempted to introduce a foie gras ban, but Speaker Christine Quinn, who notoriously controlled the city’s legislative agenda, blocked it before other Council Members could even weigh in. A 2007 New York Times story about foie gras protests at Fairway made reference to this incident. In stark contrast to Speaker Quinn, the current Speaker, Corey Johnson, supported Council Member Rivera’s bill to ban foie gras sales.

Matt Dominguez and Allie Feldman Taylor from Voters for Animal Rights flank Carlina Rivera, the NYC Council Member who introduced the bill to ban the sale of foie gras.

While the animal rights community credits the current City Council for passing laws to protect animals, the historic foie gras bill would not have been introduced, much less passed, by the City Council, were it not for a two year campaign waged by Voters for Animal Rights (VFAR), a group that advocates for animal rights legislation in NYC. With the support of hundreds of grass roots animal rights activists, VFAR organizers Allie Feldman Taylor and Matt Dominguez partnered with animal rights groups, veterinarians, and restaurants to create a coalition of supporters who lobbied City Council members and educated the public about the cruelty associated with the production of foie gras.

David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, criticizes the City Council for passing the bill to ban the sale of foie gras.

After working with Council Member Rivera to get the bill introduced, VFAR supporters, led by Taylor and Dominguez, lobbied the members of the City Council’s Health Committee, which is where the bill was assigned for review. On the day of the Committee vote, the Chair, Council Member Mark Levine, made an impassioned speech suggesting that lawmakers have an ethical mandate to protect animals: “As society evolves, we have a right to expect business practices evolve as well. I am incredibly proud that this City Council has begun to put empathy for the suffering of animals front and center on our agenda, and, more importantly, that we are translating that empathy into tangible policy, smart policy for the animals in this city and beyond. And that does mean changing the food we consume and changing the food production system.”

After the votes for the foie gras ban were counted, the animal rights activists in the City Council chambers rejoiced, not only because hundreds of thousands of birds will be spared from force feeding, but also because the City Council sent a strong message to the public that lawmakers are now recognizing the plight of animals and the need for laws to protect them. “We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the compassionate consciousness of our City Council Members,” said Taylor. “It’s a new day for animal rights in New York City.”

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Animal Rights Activist Being Sent to Jail: “The Animals Have it Far Worse.”

June 8, 2015 by Leave a Comment

The News

Amber Canavan is spending the month of July in jail. Her crime? Entering a foie gras facility, where tens of thousands of ducks are intensively confined and force fed through metal pipes, and rescuing two of them.

Amber Canavan entered Hudson Valley Foie Gras to document and expose the cruelty

Amber Canavan entered Hudson Valley Foie Gras to document and expose the cruelty

“We still live in a world where people who commit the abuses are victims and those who expose them are criminals,” said Ms. Canavan. “I don’t want to go to jail, but my time there will be a cakewalk compared to what animals are forced to endure in foie gras factories.”

Ducks cower in fear at the side of their cage at Hudson Valley Foie Gras (photo: still shot from footage taken by Amber Canavan)

Ducks cower in fear at the side of their cage at Hudson Valley Foie Gras (photo: still shot from footage taken by Amber Canavan)

In 2011, Ms. Canavan and another activist whose identity she has protected paid a late night visit to Hudson Valley Foie Gras in upstate New York, the largest foie gras producer in the United States. While there, she documented the “deplorable” conditions in which the ducks are kept. The footage she captured was used in a foie gras exposé produced by the Animal Protection and Rescue League and narrated by actress Wendy Malick.

In February, the NY Times published a lengthy story about the incident, which linked to the video and informed readers about the “force feeding” required to produce this “controversial” dish. “I take comfort in the fact the NY Times article and the footage that I took have helped to expose the atrocities being committed against these animals,” said Ms. Canavan.

Excerpt from NY Times story about Amber Canavan and Hudson Valley Foie Gras

Excerpt from NY Times story about Amber Canavan and Hudson Valley Foie Gras

After several weeks of intensive care, the two ducks rescued by Ms. Canavan recovered from their injuries and are “flourishing” at a sanctuary, where they have access to fresh air, proper care and water for swimming. Ducks and geese are aquatic animals, but they have no access to water in foie gras factories.

Ducks are aquatic animals but have no access to water in foie gras factories. These two ducks were rescued by Amber Canavan.

Ducks are aquatic animals, but they have no access to water at Hudson Valley Foie Gras and other foie gras producers. These two were rescued by Amber Canavan.

The campaign to expose foie gras cruelty and hold restaurants that serve it accountable has intensified in recent years. Since 2014, activists in the U.K. with Hertfordshire Animal Rights and London Vegan Actions (LVA) have compelled at least 10 restaurants to stop selling foie gras. In recent months, LVA has staged provocative disruptions inside of establishments that refuse to remove the “delicacy of despair” from the menu.

Amber Canavan will complete her jail term at the end of July, but her punishment won’t stop there. For the next five years, an order of protection – a penalty intended to protect victims of stalkers or domestic violence – will prevent her from campaigning against Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Ms. Canavan hopes that the court’s breach of her civil liberties and “heavy-handed” jail sentence backfire by triggering activists to convince as many restaurants as possible to drop foie gras.

Your Turn

Amber sacrificed her safety, freedom and financial security to expose the plight of animals exploited and killed for foie gras. Now, she needs help. Please make a tax deductible donation to her legal defense fund.

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London Activists Stage Provocative Disruptions Inside Restaurant that Serves Foie Gras

May 22, 2015 by Leave a Comment

The News

If you own a restaurant in London, you’d better think twice before serving foie gras. That is because London Vegan Actions, an animals rights group that “turns actions into victories,” could very well disrupt your diners – over and over – until you take it off the menu.

Disruptions inside of restaurants have triggered much debate within the animal rights community. Some activists say that loud disruptions alienate the target audiences; others argue that they prompt customers to consider what – or who – they are eating and that they trigger exasperated restaurants to stop serving the most controversial of foods.

Security guard expels one of the activists who staged disruption inside of Sketch

Security guard expels an animal rights activist who staged a disruption inside of Sketch, a restaurant in London that sells foie gras

After four weeks of disruptions, the restaurant Sketch, the group’s current target, continues to sell foie gras, and London Vegan Actions is showing no signs of backing down. After all, they argue, “you cannot even legally produce foie gras in the U.K. due to the cruelty, which is why 16 countries have banned its production.” Protests are planned on May 22nd and May 23rd.

Sketch restaurant is the target of animal rights protests because it sells foie gras

Sketch restaurant is the target of animal rights protests because it sells foie gras (photo: Karen Robinson, The Guardian)

Activists show video of foie gras production inside restaurant

Activists have displayed video of foie gras production inside of Sketch

A van filled with police officers arrives at at foie gras protest at Sketch restaurant in London

A van filled with police officers arrives at at foie gras protest at Sketch

In late April, Alexis Gauthier, the chef and owner of Gauthier restaurant, decided to take foie gras off of his menu after London Vegan Actions staged three disruptive protests.

Alexis Gauthier, the chef owner of Gauthier Restaurant in London, is dragged back into restaurant as he asks protesters if they are wearing leather shoes.

An angry customer at Gauthier accuses protesters of wearing leather shoes as his dining companion attempts to drag him into the restaurant

Foie gras, which is often described by activists as a “delicacy of despair,”  is produced by force feeding ducks and geese through metal pipes until their livers become diseased, swelling up to ten times their normal size. The pipes are inserted 12″ down their esophaguses three times daily in the weeks leading up to slaughter.

Gavage, force feeding

Gavage, the process by which the birds’ livers are fattened, is French for force feeding.

In 2013, the U.S.-based advocacy group Mercy For Animals used hidden cameras at the nation’s largest producer to document the abuse inherent in foie gras production:

London Vegan Actions isn’t the only group in the U.K. advocating on behalf of battered ducks and geese. Hertfordshire Animal Rights stopped the sale of foie gras at seven U.K. restaurants in 2014.

Your Turn

Please ask Sketch to take foie gras off the menu by sending an email to, tweeting or posting a message on the restaurant’s Facebook page.


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Victim Uses Media Interest in His Assault to Generate Attention for Abused Animals

March 21, 2015 by Leave a Comment

The News

When Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) organizer Nicholas Shaw-Mcminn arrived at an upscale French restaurant in California to protest foie gras, he was not expecting to be attacked with a weapon by the restaurant manager. But you’d think he was, based on his thoughtful reaction that led to extensive media coverage exposing the atrocities of foie gras production.

Restaurant manager attacks DxE activist Matthew Shaw-Mcminn

Omar Haddedou, the manager of Le Vallauris in Palm Springs, attacks DxE activist Nicholas Shaw-Mcminn (photo: DxE)

La Vallauris patrons could hear DxE activists speaking out against foie gras cruelty from the restaurant's parking lot.

DxE activists spoke out against foie gras cruelty from the Le Vallauris parking lot, which is in earshot of the restaurant’s outdoor seating.

Wayne Hsiung, a co-founder of DxE, commended Nick’s reaction: “Even as his face was being clubbed, Nick directly confronted the violence with camera in hand. He did not run. He did not strike back. He did not even curse. He calmly continued recording.”

When asked by a reporter why he didn’t press charges against his assailant, Nick shifted the story to the animals, asserting that the pain he felt is something the animals experience every day: “We want to keep the attention on the animals and not make it just about me. Violent people are causing horrible harm to animals, and someone needs to be there to bring awareness and to try to end this violence.”

Nick is no stranger to being assaulted during a protest. In 2014, several staff members of BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in San Bernadino, California, aggressively ejected him from the restaurant as he attempted – by  himself – to speak out on behalf of the animals who were being eaten.

DxE’s Wayne Hsiung argues that the physical backlash experienced by Nick and many other activists serves to strengthen the animal rights movement: “The press coverage that results from these incidents has exposed hundreds of thousands of people to the plight of animals and has triggered activists around the world to ask us how they can participate in our non-violent, direct actions.”

After he was attacked in Palm Springs, Nick insisted that the protest continue, in spite of the fact that his face was battered: “These attacks only strengthen my resolve to fight for the animals.” As they were leaving the parking lot, the DxE activists encountered a man overcome with rage who frantically repeated, “Take George Soros and go!” — giving participants a second story to tell.  See for yourself:

Your Turn

To learn more about DxE and create or join a DxE group near you, please visit Direct Action Everywhere.

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Caught on Video: Pedestrian Goes Ballistic on Activists During Foie Gras Protest

January 20, 2015 by Leave a Comment

The News

Tensions are running high in California, where a judge recently ruled that foie gras – “torture in a tin” – can once again be sold in restaurants and stores after being outlawed in 2012. Activists have not taken the bad news sitting down and are staging protests at restaurants across the state.

In San Francisco, a pedestrian claiming to be a vegetarian launched a vicious attack on activists protesting outside a restaurant called 4505 Burgers & BBQ. Thankfully, demonstrators caught the outburst on camera. A reader from San Francisco contacted TheirTurn to say that the woman’s name is Monique, but he did not provide a last name.

Shani Campbell, the organizer of the protest, said “We found it odd that the woman who verbally and physically assaulted us was more angry about a peaceful protest than the restaurant serving the remains of animals who lived unimaginably miserable lives.

foie gras counter protest

Woman attacks peaceful foie gras protesters in San Francisco

“People invoke ‘freedom of choice’ when defending what they eat, but, when your choice means someone else’s immense suffering and death, it’s no longer about ‘your freedom.’ Rather, it’s about the lack of freedom and rights of the ones you are oppressing.”

"No. Not again."

“Foie Gras: Delicacy of Despair”

Your Turn

Please contact 4505 Burgers & BBQ via email, FacebookTwitter and/or phone (415-231-6993) to let them know what you think of their decision to put the “delicacy of despair” back on the menu.

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