This past week, This American Life returned to its annual "Poultry Slam" theme: fowl stories for holiday diners. This year, stories included tales of tic-tac-toe-playing chickens (apparently illegal in San Francisco) and a wild turkey who terrorized a neighborhood on Martha's Vineyard (more proof of the growing turkey resistance). The episode concluded with chef Dan Barber's quest to farm geese that produce foie gras without force-feeding.
Several years ago, Barber traveled to Spain to visit a farm run by Eduardo Sousa, who was claiming to raise geese to believe they were wild animals who'd stumbled onto a goose-y garden of paradise. Foie gras -- superenlarged, fatty livers -- is possible only in geese and ducks because these birds normally gorge right before departing on their winter migration, storing fat in their livers as fuel. Sousa removes all signifiers of domestication from his farm, and come winter, the geese fatten up for a flight they never take. It works: Sousa's liver, Barber recounts, is exquisite, with flavors he has never tasted before in foie gras.
So Barber, whose four-star restaurant is part of a sustainable farm in upstate New York, has attempted to repeat the experience. Apparently, it's not as easy the Spanish farmer makes it look, and may not be economically feasible. Listen to the episode to hear Barber's experience with poultry S&M and the Rambo of geese (his segment begins at 36:24 in the recording).