Sunday, November 22, 2009


France is justly famous for its cuisine, also for eating frog’s legs and snails. These things came to be part of the French diet because of hard times during wars and famine. Frogs and snails and all the rest are a good, cheap source of protein and should not be sniffed at by those of us who have plenty to eat. How choosy would we be if we were hungry, I wonder?

There was a time in France (1030-1032 under King Henri I), when food was so scarce that the French not only ate snails, frogs, kidneys and livers etc., but they ate each other as well. Cannibalism was common and human flesh was sold in the market. Of course, other peoples have also resorted to cannibalism, some not even out of necessity.  

Most ancient cultures have experienced famine at some point and have learned to eat all parts of the animals they kill: beak, snout, ears, testicles, penis, uterus, intestines, heart, lungs, pancreas, brains. Alexandre Dumas even has a recipe for elephant’s feet, in his Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine, available on Amazon in case you need it. They taste like marrow, apparently. 

Too many people, usually plumper than they should be, loudly squawk “ew!” at the mention of a liver or a kidney on their plate, or even mutton, which many mistaenly think is goat.  This “ew” factor has been exported around the world via TV shows and movies, making it acceptable to throw out or ignore vast amounts of nourishing food for no good reason, while too many people starve.

There’s nothing shameful or “ew” about eating a snail; they’re now considered a delicacy. There's even snail caviar, delicate translucent snail eggs which taste like "a walk in the woods", I hear. And if snails eat your garden, eat them back. With garlic butter and parsley and a nice Beaujolais. Besides, snails are quite remarkable critters: not only do they have a beautifully designed Art Nouveau home, but they can slide across a razor’s edge without cutting themselves, thanks to their amazing mucous. By the way, snails should be served cooked and HOT and not on "a bed of ice", as I read with horror on a blog recently. When cooked they are not slimy in any way, the texture is softly rubbery, in fact. 

Other fine sources of protein are octopus beaks, giant African snails (as big as a Sunday roast), cicadas, lemon ants, bee larvae, bamboo worms, scorpions, tarantulas, dragonflies, sago grubs, cockroaches. And, the way things are going, we might be eating them sooner than we think.

Photos: top: Beef heart   /  Centre right: snail caviar  



Claire King said...

Hear, hear!

Claire King said...

ps - snails on ice - ewwww!

Nora Lumiere said...

The idea of serving snails on a bed of ice is worthy of a good "Ewwww".
And the poor woman ate them like a trouper and said she guessed they were good.