A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

James Gandolfini’s Last Supper: Foie Gras


I confess to never having watched “The Sopranos”, and I wasn’t following the minute-by-minute coverage that followed James Gandolfini’s death in Rome.

Or at least not until I saw the details of his last meal. His family had quoted his autopsy as saying that the 51-year-old actor had “died of a heart attack, of natural causes.”

But there’s nothing “natural” about dying of a heart attack when you’re 51 years old. Especially when you read what Gandolfini had for dinner the night he died. It included two orders of fried prawns along with “a large portion” of foie gras.

According to Dr. Chauncey Crandall, head of the cardiac transplant program at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic, Gandolfini was “a heart attack waiting to happen … The bottom line is that he was overweight, probably inactive, and he had multiple risk factors.”

Sliced foie gras with cumberland sauce and basil leaves

Foie gras is a dietary disaster for humans, and a life of pure cruelty for the ducks and geese who have metal tubes pushed down their throat so they can be forcibly given foods that cause their livers to swell and go into overdrive. Then they’re killed, and their super-fat liver (their “foie gras”) is turned into a “delicacy”.

Foie gras was banned in Chicago in 1996, but the ban was repealed two years later. In 2012, California banned “force feed[ing] a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size” and the sale of products that are a result of this. Various chefs and other businesses continue to find ways of getting around the ban.

In Europe, only five countries still produce foie gras: Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, France and Hungary. France permits it on the workaround that “foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” (Other countries still import it, and there are regular demonstrations outside gourmet stores like London’s Fortnum & Mason.)

Foie gras is a dietary disaster for humans, and a life of pure cruelty for the ducks and geese.

It’s also illegal to produce foie gras in Argentina. Israel has banned the force feeding of geese, and a bill is currently making its way through the Israeli parliament prohibiting all sales of the product.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

Dr. Neal Barnard, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, notes that the average American eats 188 pounds of meat and more than 30 pounds of cheese every year, and that dairy products are the #1 source of saturated fat in the American diet.

If reports of Gandolfini’s last meal — prawns and foie gras — are correct, he got a significant dose of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol shortly before he died. Abundant research shows that even a single fatty or salty meal can stiffen the arteries and greatly increase the risk of a heart attack.

foie-gras-1-070813Food from dead and enslaved animals (including dairy products and almost all eggs) are bad for your health, very bad for the animals who are involved, and bad for the planet in terms of the enormous resources required to feed them.

The best thing we can all do to protect the greatest number of animals and the whole natural world, including the oceans and the forests, is to switch to a plant-based diet.

Gandolfini was found dead in the bathroom and was carried out of his hotel room wrapped in a blanket.

When it comes to saying farewell to a favorite actor, Dr. Barnard puts it quite succinctly:

We’ll want to remember James Gandolfini fondly. And we do no favors to his memory or to those who are at risk of a heart attack if we misinterpret his untimely death as “natural.”