January 12, 2009
Don’t eat the red ones. That could be the rallying cry in Britain’s coming squirrel wars. The U.K.’s adorable but endangered red squirrel is under siege from the American gray squirrel, and a last-ditch method of dealing with the invader has suddenly become popular: eating them.
The gray squirrel was introduced to the British Isles more than a century ago. It’s innocuous here in the states, but in Britain is an invasive species that outnumbers the native red squirrel by nearly 20 to 1. The situation has become so dire that red squirrels are now missing from much of the nation and remain on only a few islands and in the north of the country (you can glimpse them on this webcam from Anglesey, North Wales).
In 2006 a British lord urged celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to spearhead a squirrel-meat-popularization program. One way or another, by this year English butchers were having trouble keeping the 1-pound rodents in stock. Gourmets compared their taste to delicacies from duck to lamb to wild boar. One company started selling gray squirrel paté and another recently introduced Cajun-style squirrel-flavored potato chips.
Involving as it does a certain degree of revenge, eating invasive species must feel good—even if it is more of a gesture than an actual solution to the global problem of invasive species. After all, one typical trait of an invasive species is extremely high reproductive capacity. You just can’t eat them fast enough. Particularly in the case of squirrels, which have the problems of being hard to shoot (use a rifle; shotguns tend to ruin the meat), hard to skin (“like pulliing the waterlogged wellies off a toddler“), and hard to make look good on a plate, judging by some well-meaning but bizarre how-to videos on YouTube.
This is the sort of news that pleads for people to tell their weirdest-thing-I-ever-ate stories. The best I can offer beyond the occasional goat vindaloo or, let’s face it, calamari, is some beer my entomology professor used to brew, using yeasts isolated from her favorite beetle species. But eating invasive species sounds like a hobby I could get behind. From zebra mussels to blue-lined snapper to the bullfrogs wreaking havoc in California marshes, I’m picturing a nearly inexhaustible menu. What other species would you add to it?
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