Meanwhile, the foie gras farms and Newark, N.J.-based distributor D'Artagnan never were able to reach a consensus on how to combat the California legislation, which bans not only the livers but also the meat and, as animal activists have informed North Face and Patagonia, feathers of force-fed birds. Henley said a federal lawsuit against the ban, as attempted but dismissed in Chicago, could be "crushing" in terms of cost without guaranteed success. Henley and D'Artagnan owner Ariane Daguin said lawyers are exploring possible loopholes in the meantime.
Said Shapiro: "There are a lot of causes people can champion, and if people think their cause is to defend this table treat that California thinks is so cruel that they have declared it a crime, that speaks volumes, I think."
What happens next? Shapiro said the Humane Society has no immediate plans to push foie gras bans elsewhere; it has been focusing more on legislation against battery cages for hens, veal crates and pig gestation crates.
But Bourdain said he assumes the animal-rights groups — led, he stressed, by vegans with an anti-meat agenda — will continue this crusade against an expensive delicacy that sounds disgusting to the uninitiated.
"I think emboldened by this success, they will seek other mush-minded communities that will be most likely to wrongheadedly decide this is the right thing to do," Bourdain said. "Who wants to hurt a cute animal? No one. If positioned correctly, it's easy to see this is a winning argument."
"After that, it's going be something else," agreed Didier Durand, the Cyrano's Farm Kitchen French chef who fought Chicago's ban. "That's an attempt not to have any freedom of choice."
Bourdain characterized the activists, such as Bryan Pease, co-founder of the San Diego-based Animal Rescue and Protection League, as extremists. Pease said the same of the chefs defending the dish.
"Nobody thinks it's OK to force-feed animals to enlarge their organs," Pease said. "It's just not something most people find acceptable."
Bourdain at least agreed with that last point. "If you put the matter to a vote in a general election, foie gras would lose," he said.
Here's one thing that hasn't changed since Chicago wrestled with foie gras: The public debate continues to be more about inflaming emotions than fostering serious discussion about the treatment of food animals.
In an interview last month on KCRW public radio in Santa Monica, Burton said of San Francisco chef and foie gras proponent Chris Cosentino: "I'd like to have him and all these other fancy chefs sit down at a table and let me put a tube in their mouth and put a bunch of oats and feed through and see how they like it."
Cosentino, who said he has been harassed for his pro-foie gras stance, responded, "I don't like being threatened, Mr. Burton."
When the host asked Burton whether he meant to threaten the chef, the Democratic Party chairman replied: "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If they don't think force-feeding is bad, they ought to be force-fed."
Mark Caro's book "The Foie Gras Wars" was published by Simon & Schuster in 2009.