I read an interesting (65% serious) piece on Wired this morning about eating pigeons. The two main points were that pigeons are edible and we should adjust our perceptions of them a tad bit.
Blogs: Wired.com Science
When you look at a pigeon, you might see a dirty, rat-like bird that fouls anything it touches with feathers or feces, but I see a waste-scavenging, protein-generating biomachine.
At a time when rising demand for meat across the globe endangers the food system, and local eating has gained millions of (T-shirt wearing) adherents, it's time to reconsider our assumptions about what protein sources are considered OK to eat.
You see, city pigeons are the feral descendants of birds that were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago so that we could eat them and use their guano as fertilizer, we read in Der Spiegel. They're still doing their part, i.e. eating and breeding, but we humans have stopped doing ours, i.e. eating them.
Numbering in the hundreds of millions, they could be a new source of guilt-free protein for locavores in urban centers. Instead, we're still trying to kill off our species' former pet birds, which (as any city-dweller can attest) doesn't work.
It's the "perception" bit that sparked my attention, although I will unequivocally say that refuse scavenging pigeons are (slightly) more conceptually palatable than tilapia raised in ponds "fed" chicken dung to boost plankton growth (which the fish then feed on). Chicken dung is also commonly fed to carp, but, hey, I've never eaten carp so I'm not willied-out about that practice.
This from The Independent (UK) 2005:
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Wednesday, 28 December 2005
Bird flu may be spread by using chicken dung as food in fish farms, a practice now routine in Asia, according to the world's leading bird conservation organisation.
Fertilising fish ponds with poultry faeces, which can dramatically improve fish growth, may set up major new reservoirs of avian influenza infection if the chickens providing the manure are infected themselves, according to BirdLife International, the Cambridge-based umbrella body for bird protection groups in 100 countries.
The suggestion, which has echoes of the BSE outbreak in Britain - when cattle were infected by their food - puts a question mark over a technique firmly backed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as a primary means of providing protein for mushrooming populations in developing countries.
Known as integrated livestock-fish farming, the technique involves transferring the wastes from raising pigs, ducks or chickens directly to fish farms. At the right dosage, the nutrients in the manure give an enormous boost to the growth of plankton in the ponds, which are the main food of fish such as carp and tilapia.
BirdLife International is now calling for an investigation into the possibility that thousands of manure-fed ponds across Asia may be the means by which the new potentially deadly strain of avian influenza, H5N1, is being spread. BirdLife points out that outbreaks of H5N1 have occurred this year at locations in China, Romania and Croatia where there are fish farms.
The Chinese outbreak of H5N1 in May, which mainly involved bar-headed geese, took place at Qinghai Lake, a location where the FAO helped establish an integrated livestock fish farm in the early 1990s, BirdLife said.
"This outbreak helped lead to the widespread media speculation about wild birds spreading H5N1," said Richard Thomas from BirdLife. "We pointed out that bar-headed geese migrate from India, where H5N1 has never occurred, and migrate early, so they must have contracted the disease locally, at Qinghai."
Although no mention has been made of the possible links between manure-fed ponds and influenza in the recent alarm over bird flu, the issue has been raised before, and the FAO, although actively promoting the technique, is well aware of the threat.
I haven't eaten tilapia since I read The Independent article when it first hit the net in 2005. I am fortunate; I have the option of choice of food(s), would I be so finicky if I didn't? Probably not.
I naively thought that farm raised fish were more "environmentally responsible" so I supported the farm raised fish concept and when a choice between farm and wild was available I always chose "farm", believing (naively) that my support somehow directly lessened the over-fished burdens of our oceans. Now, left without the farm-raised option (personal choice) and guilt over the over-fishing issue, for the most part I don't eat fish any longer. OK, except my (greatly reduced) consumption of sushi, now down to roughly a "quarterly treat".
I rarely eat beef any longer, not from a "beef is bad for you" perspective, but because of the issues of how they are raised and slaughtered, pork has fallen prey to this as well. I try to restrict myself to two steaks a year, although I admit last night I splurged and had a glorious offering at a local restaurant I've been meaning to check out, newly opened a year ago. It was, perhaps and without exaggeration, the best steak I have ever had the culinary pleasure experiencing. Of course, I did experience a few moments of guilt when ordering, quickly forgotten with that first bite.
The restaurant, Harvest Moon, is three miles from my home, and although my husband had long been suggesting that we check it out, I always demurred on the grounds of "how good could a local restaurant be… really?" My assumption was if it rose to "diner" level it would probably be accomplishing all that could reasonably be expected.
My "perception" was one thing, reality turned out to be quite another. Harvest Moon Low Country Grille would, in fact, be quite at home in downtown Charleston competing with just about any (and all) of our well-known (and rated) continental fare establishments. Please forgive my brief digression, but if y'all out there are ever near Ravenel, SC you should do yourselves (and your taste buds) a favor and give them a try.
Oh, and there was no ice dilemma since I chose to pair my steak with a Yuengling lager.
There is one dish that I still eat at every opportunity, without regards to "where and how" it lived, died, and shipped, great (ok, even good) calamari. After all, life without certain things (calamari and that occasional steak) just doesn't seem to be within my capacity of self-denial.
Perhaps a bit of supreme irony, but I eat chicken, almost exclusively, as my meat protein. However, I do treat my uncooked chicken with all the respect and caution of a genuine bio-hazard. See here for my post on biohazard poultry and its proper handling.
My food choices, and at this point in my life they are still choices, are already highly driven by perception(s), irrespective of factuality, and being such they are subject to being influenced. Those influences come from my concerns about safety, social and ecological consciousness, being a good citizen of the world, respectfulness of the "web of life", and last – my taste buds.
I read the Wired piece thinking hummm… this makes sense on a number of levels, but – could I eat pigeon? Honestly, probably a choice just above eating rat, and it would likely take a lot of "influence" to change my perceptions. After all, my dietary choices seem to revolve around the elimination of foods not inclusion, but then, the main theme of the piece… inclusion… truly did set me to thinking.
Our food supply is not all that it should be from the standpoints of safety, ecology, responsible and humane stewardship, and last but not least, supply-and-demand. Perhaps it's way past time to rethink a number of things.
Perhaps perspicacity needs to replace perception.
Just don't suggest I start eating rat due to its ubiquitous plentitude.