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A ban on foie gras? Could this really be Chicago?

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News readers in the Windy City this fall might be forgiven for thinking they've stumbled into California by mistake.

Last week the city council approved a far-reaching smoking ban; now, they're following in California's footsteps again as they consider outlawing another un-PC indulgence: foie gras.

If the bill passes, the world's hog butcher will become the first city to restrict sale of the delicacy (California's ban won't take place until 2012). It passed out of committee and could be brought to a council vote as soon as Wednesday.

The issue hasn't exactly taken Chicago by storm; most residents don't even know what the buttery tidbit is, much less care that it's threatened. But the debate surrounding foie gras (pronounced fwah-grah - French for "fatty liver") has picked up nationwide, and Chicago has become a battleground that pits restauranteurs against each other, and has gourmands facing off against animal-rights activists.

"Our laws are a reflection of our society's values, and our culture does not condone the torture of small innocent animals," says Joe Moore, the Chicago alderman who proposed the ban, though he acknowledges he hasn't visited a foie gras farm and isn't sure if he's ever eaten the food. "It's not a matter of personal choice."

The reason for all the fuss is the artificial fattening process used to produce the duck or goose liver: To get the desired richness, the birds are force-fed starting at 12 weeks, by metal tubes pushed down their throats. After two to four weeks of feeding, when their livers are up to 10 times the normal size, they're slaughtered.

It's a description to make even dedicated carnivores squirm, though foie-gras advocates say it isn't as harmful to the birds, who lack humans' gag reflex, as it sounds.

A growing chorus of animal-rights groups has worked to make eating foie gras the ethical equivalent of clubbing baby seals, and the target of a small flurry of laws.

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