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A Luxury Treat on the Titanic: The Contentious History of Foie Gras

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Foie gras has a contentious history intertwined with luxury and controversy. The fattened liver of ducks or geese was originally enjoyed in ancient Egypt by the wealthy elite. Through trade and conquest, foie gras has become associated with status and indulgence across ancient Greece, Rome, and medieval Europe as production spread. By pioneering force-feeding techniques, French chefs cemented foie gras as a hallmark of fine dining from the 18th century onwards.

Accordingly, foie gras was served to first-class passengers aboard RMS Titanic in 1912, elevating the menus through opulent ingredients. Even as the ship tragically sank after striking an iceberg, the delicacy epitomized the extreme disparity between lavish first-class meals and economical lower-class dining.

Today, foie gras remains polarizing and politicized. Many countries have banned its production as animal cruelty, while chefs and food connoisseurs defend foie gras as integral to culinary arts. Debates on foie gras reveal conflicting attitudes towards luxury, wealth and ethical consumption – attitudes shaped by its long history as an ostentatious symbol stretching back millennia. To understand modern views, we must reflect on foie gras’ past – from Egyptian royalty to the Titanic’s tragic voyage.


How Fois Gras is Made

The production of foie gras involves highly controversial force-feeding methods. Male ducks or geese are fed large amounts of grain and fat through a tube inserted directly into their esophagus. This process, known as gavage, causes the bird’s liver to balloon up to 10 times normal size.

During the force-feeding period, a typical bird may endure up to four feedings per day of dishes like corn soaked in fat. A funnel is used to deliver the large volumes of fattening foods directly into the animal’s throat. This enables each bird to be overfed beyond what it would naturally eat.

The tube insertion can initially be difficult if the animal resists and struggles. Yet most birds eventually surrender to the frequent force-feedings, having little space to move within tiny cages or enclosures. The result is that the buildup of fat leads to the signature enlarged and tender liver that has made foie gras a luxury cuisine center piece.

Many critics argue this forced overfeeding is inhumane, unethical and unnecessary. Yet advocates believe high-quality foie gras depends on gavage procedures to transform liver texture and induce fat marbling. For them, banning force-feeding eradicates the essence of traditional, high-value foie gras production valued by gastronomy. This tension reflects why foie gras is so politically charged today.

The opulent delicacy’s elaborate prep once conveyed wealth.  However, modern concerns over animal ethics have increasingly stigmatized the cruel techniques underlying such excess.

The Faux Gras Alternative

A close alternative to foie gras is faux gras, a vegetarian or vegan pâté meant to mimic the texture and flavour of traditional duck or goose liver. Here are some key details on faux gras:

  • Faux gras utilizes nuts, mushrooms, or vegetables like eggplant as the base rather than animal liver. Common ingredients include walnuts, cashews, lentils, truffles, shallots, and herbs.
  • Crafting a convincingly rich, smooth texture from plants is central to faux gras. Fatty nuts help replicate foie gras’ signature mouthfeel and richness.
  • Added umami boosters like seaweed and soy sauce replicate savoriness without using meat. Truffles also confer an earthy, sumptuous flavour.
  • Spices like nutmeg and Cognac are often incorporated for aroma and subtle hints typical of fine French cuisine. White wine or tart fruits provide acidity to balance out fattiness.
  • By mimicking textures, flavours, and presentation, faux gras allows vegetarians, vegans, and eaters concerned about animal ethics to enjoy an extremely close plant-based approximation of foie gras.
  • High-end faux gras can come very near to the indulgent experience of actual foie gras liver. Skilled manipulation of plant oils, acids, aromatics and emulsifiers allows rich pseudo-liver flavors.

With global concerns over agricultural impacts and meat consumption escalating, faux gras makes an extremely compelling case as the future of luxurious, sustainable pâté.

An Ethical Alternative: Faux Gras


Pâté de Foie Gras

As you would expect on a luxury ship, this was served in 1st class on the ill fated voyage of the Titanic. 
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Edwardian, French, Titanic, Victorian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 34 minutes
Servings 10 servings


  • 1 1/2 lbs. whole duck or goose foie gras cleaned and deveined, room temperature
  • 4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper freshly ground
  • 1/4 cup Sauternes or 3 tbsp. Armagnac


  • Preheat oven to 200°F and line a small roasting pan with a folded kitchen towel to help prevent the fois gras from cooking too quickly
  • Sprinkle each lobe and any loose pieces of the goose liver (foiegras) on both sides with kosher salt and white pepper. Sprinkle one third of Sauternes in terrine and firmly press large lobe of foie gras, smooth side down, into bottom. (Wedge any loose pieces of foie gras into terrine to make lobe fit snugly.) Sprinkle with another third of Sauternes. Put smaller lobe of foie gras, smooth side up, into terrine and firmly press down to create a flat surface and snug fit. Sprinkle with remaining Sauternes. Cover surface of foie gras with plastic wrap, then cover terrine with lid or foil.
  • Put terrine (with plastic wrap and lid) in roasting pan and fill roasting pan with enough hot water to reach halfway up side of terrine. Bake in middle of oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted diagonally into center of foie gras registers 120° which takes about 3 1/2 hours.
  • Remove terrine from pan. Discard water and remove towel. Return terrine to roasting pan and remove lid.
  • Measure and cut a piece of cardboard trimmed to fit just inside top of terrine, wrapped well in plastic wrap. Place the cardboard directly on surface of the foie gras and set a 3 lb weight on cardboard (this will force fat to surface; don't worry if fat overflows). Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes.
  • Remove weight and cardboard and spoon any fat that has dripped over side of terrine back onto top (fat will seal terrine). Chill, covered, until solid, at least 1 day.
  • Unmold foie gras by running a hot knife around edge. Invert onto a plate and reinvert, fat side up, onto serving dish. Cut into slices with a heated sharp knife.
  • Serve on your favorite bread.


If you don't have an oval terrine, you could use a ceramic soufflé dish or a glass loaf pan that's just large enough for the foie gras to fit in snugly.
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