pest or food: a snail story

We are living in a state of food excess on the farm, so much so that anything not being intentionally grown is destined for the compost pile. I have pulled a countless amount of edible weeds from the ground, leaving them to wilt and die in the path. We have probably gotten rid of enough lamb’s quarters to have as a significant portion of every meal for the past four weeks. Yesterday, I was weeding a bed of beets and uprooted two of the largest tomatillo plants currently on the farm. They were removed because that bed was for beets, not tomatillos. All of this unwanted biomass ends up getting turned into compost, but I really wanted to do something about it, however small. So, I ate some snails.

My progress has been discussed a bit here and there on the blog, but a quick recap: After collecting all of the snails, I had them on a diet of lettuce for about four days. I then switched their food source to cilantro, rosemary, Mexican tarragon (another farm “weed”), and leaves from a lemon tree to finish off their flavor for several days. Then, I cleaned them all and put them in a wooden box with a bowl of water for three days, changing the water and cleaning the box each day. Finally, this past Friday we cooked them.

After boiling the snails for five minutes, I pulled the meat out of the shell (a crazy, crazy sight) and removed a cartilaginous part that felt even less fun to eat than the snail slimefest. I heated up the wok, tossed in a lot of farm-grown garlic, onion, and cilantro, and finally added the snail meat. Justin had made tortillas, and snail tacos were served with a squeeze of lime juice, some fresh onion, and more cilantro.

I deem this project a success. Despite the slime factor of the snail meat, the flavor of the meal was pretty delicious and the people who ate the tacos are still alive. Also, I killed about 80 snails in the process and their deaths went towards feeding me, three others, and eventually the farm dog.

A few days later, I was reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, which is a pretty interesting counterpart to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. While both are accounts of  local eating, Kingsolver moved her family away from Arizona for her project while Nabhan chose to embrace the local foods of his Arizona foodshed. If the O’odham Indians survived in and around Flagstaff, Arizona for centuries, Nabhan posits, surely the foodshed provides food worth understanding and integrating into one’s diet.

Anyway, he writes about the gathering and roasting some hornworms, and then seeing many of the worms in the beds of a small farm. He writes: “Should I think of them as part of the harvest or as a pest? I realized that most statistics defined agriculture’s productivity far too narrowly, merely measuring the yield of intentionally sown crops in a field, ignoring or even discouraging the rest of life that clusters there.” The farmers and I definitely recognize the tendency for more and more wildlife to find their way to the farm and become part of the micro-ecosystems of the individual beds, but efforts are still made to quell any population of weed or bug that is not being grown intentionally.

My snail experiment worked to alter slightly how I think about snails when I see them munching on the cabbage and beet greens–as an organism that is just trying to survive, and one that can provide sustenance as well.

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4 responses to “pest or food: a snail story

  1. pets or food, genna. next time you have 80 snails u should just let them chill on you. i bet they would look pretty happy 🙂

  2. Your description of the process of preparing snails is very true to the time tested method with one better. In Italy, the preparation was very much the same. We would use flour or semolina instead of the herbs to purify the snails. I like your method of feeding them Rosemary and other herbs to season the little morsels from the inside. They must have tased great.
    Next time may I suggest cooking le lumaghe in a nice well spiced tomato sauce. sauce

    • Uncle Sergio-

      You are the only person who didn’t respond to that post with a gross reaction. They tasted pretty good, but the texture is definitely something that I’m going to need to get used to. The method of cooking them in spicy tomato sauce sounds delicious. Over pasta…yummmm. Maybe I’ll do that soon with some fresh tomatoes from the farm!

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