What Is Ethical Foie Gras and Why Is It So Expensive?

Discovering The Reasons Ethical Foie Gras Costs $200 A Jar

What Is Ethical Foie Gras and Why Is It So Expensive?
Photo by Jules D Truman / Unsplash

Foie gras, long revered as a luxurious delicacy, often carries with it a weighty price tag, averagely $80 a pound. Its production process, which traditionally involves the force-feeding of ducks and geese, has been the focal point of ethical controversies worldwide.

Several countries and notable cities, including New York, have either imposed bans or are in the process of considering them.

In the heart of Extremadura, Spain, led by Eduardo Sousa, a fifth-generation farmer with a unique approach to foie gras production.

Rather than adhering to the conventional methods that have earned the industry its controversial reputation, Sousa's geese enjoy a natural diet, rich in acorns and olives.

In "The Third Plate," Chef Dan Barber recounts his visit to Sousa’s farm. Additionally, he shared insights from this experience during a 2008 TED talk and on the "This American Life" radio show in 2011.

What is Foie Gras?

a white plate topped with foie gras
foie gras fine dining

Foie gras is a luxury delicacy made from the fattened liver of ducks or geese, traditionally obtained through a special feeding process.

With rising concerns over animal welfare, a new breed of producers has sought to develop ethical methods of producing this delicacy. But why is ethical foie gras so expensive? Let's dive in.

1. Natural Foie Gras Takes Time and Resources

Eduardo Sousa, often referred to as the “Goose Whisperer,” employs an age-old method, a legacy passed down through his family since the early 1800s, with its roots tracing back to ancient Egyptian practices. Here's how it unfolds:

Wild geese, which have been tamed, freely wander throughout the farm. Strategically situated along a natural migratory route, the farm becomes a sanctuary for wild geese during the chilly winter months. These wild geese integrate with the tamed geese, creating a unique blend of both worlds.

This intricate cycle occurs just once annually, resulting in a limited production of around 2,000 exclusive batches. These batches, despite their premium pricing, never fail to be completely snapped up by discerning buyers.

This labor-intensive process, restricted to a singular annual cycle, underscores the commitment to both quality and ethical considerations. It's a testament to the time and dedication invested to produce a product that's both ethically sound and gastronomically exceptional.

2. Require Ample Land to Roam for Grass Grazing

The geese thrive when given ample land to roam and graze on grass. Consuming acorns from the Holm Oak—the same acorns that distinguish the renowned Jamon Iberico—contributes significantly to their diet.

However, Sousa believes that the presence of grass enhances the sweetness of the acorns. Thus, with more space to graze on grass, the geese are inclined to consume more acorns. This balance ensures that the geese are not just ingesting fats but receiving a well-rounded diet. 

Some ethical producers ensure that their birds have access to ponds and streams, replicating their natural habitat.

3. The Superior Flavor of Ethically Raised Foie Gras

Sousa's foie gras, celebrated for its unparalleled flavor and recipient of the esteemed Coup de Coeur award in France, has achieved legendary status. When presented as part of a charcuterie spread, its exquisite taste becomes even more pronounced, elevating the culinary experience.

The taste of ethical foie gras is characterized by a rich, sweet, and pronounced liver flavor, where the essence of liver is accentuated by just a hint of fat. Unlike conventionally farmed foie gras, which often has an overwhelming fat taste, this method ensures the fat is harmoniously integrated to enhance the liver's flavor.

By introducing plants with varying tastes—some with a natural salinity, others with peppery undertones—the producer allows the geese to choose their diet.

This natural method not only gives the foie gras its unique taste profile but is a testament to the superiority of its flavor when compared to the force-fed variant.

4. Seasonal Harvesting

wild goose migration
wild goose migration

The European wild goose typically summers in northern regions such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, parts of northern Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. Come autumn, they journey southwards to Africa, making a vital pit-stop in Spain to refuel for their extensive migration. Many choose to stay, lured by the rich Spanish habitats.

In contrast to large-scale foie gras establishments that harvest livers multiple times a year, this Spanish farm practices an annual harvest. Typically, as the crisp airs of early autumn set in, specifically on a new moon night in October, the slaughtering takes place.

5. Premium Feed

acorns for wild geese
Acorn as feed for wild geese

Instead of cheap corn or low-quality feeds, ethical foie gras producers opt for premium, often organic feed, ensuring the birds receive the best nutrition.

In addition to allowing geese to freely graze on fresh grass, farmers dedicated to this ethical approach provide a carefully curated diet comprising organic corn, acorns, figs, and various seeds. This diet doesn't just fatten the geese's livers naturally, but it also ensures optimum health and flavor.

The acorns and organic corns feed enrich the taste of the liver, but they also impart a distinctive yellow hue, further enhancing its appeal. The combination of free grazing and this premium feed results in a foie gras that stands out both in taste and ethical considerations.

6. Labor Energy and Hardwork

The process isn't easy—Sousa often faces a loss, with predators claiming 20 to 30 percent of his geese. Moreover, creating the perfect habitat for these birds demands significant effort and dedication.

The foie gras production, the slaughter, is approached with the utmost respect and humanity. Utilizing a time-honored method, the farmer “hypnotizes" the geese.

On the darkest nights of winter, the farmers used the traditional method by employing a high-powered flash light, which momentarily stuns and calms the geese, facilitating a more humane capture.

Following this, the livers are carefully placed in jars and then slow-cooked to perfection in a traditional wood-fired oven. The result is a foie gras that's not only delectably creamy and vibrant but also devoid of cruelty.

The ethical foie gras process also ensures that no part of the goose goes to waste. Every segment of the bird is meticulously used, emphasizing the labor-intensive nature of the entire process, from rearing to cooking.

It's a holistic approach that resonates with both culinary excellence and ethical integrity.

7. High Demand for Artisanal Production

The demand for Eduardo foie gras is staggering, with every gram swiftly snapped up, and a growing waiting list testifying to its desirability.

The rarity of production—once a year from approximately 1,600 geese each fall—combined with the meticulous process, drives up the price to around $220 for a small jar.

This restrained approach not only ensures the natural rejuvenation of the flock but also abundant sustenance for the remaining geese. In essence, the production respects nature's pace and bounty, taking only what is sustainably permissible.


Ethical foie gras represents a meeting point of tradition, innovation, and a dedication to animal welfare. While its price point may be higher than traditionally produced foie gras, many argue that the genuine taste, ethical considerations, and dedication to craftsmanship more than justify the cost.

As consumers become increasingly conscious of where their food comes from and how it's produced, ethical foie gras offers a guilt-free way to enjoy a time-honored delicacy.