Bright eyed and bushy tailed; will eating squirrel for breakfast be the next trend?
It’s no longer a suspicion but a fact that our planet’s environmental health is suffering. Yet despite what many of us less-informed, wannabe Greta Thunbergs may think, cars, trucks, trains, and planes might not be our biggest problem. In fact, according to Feeding 9 Billion by National Geographic, the agriculture industry emits more harmful greenhouse gases than all of these modes of transportation combined.
Whether it’s from the methane released by cattle, the nitrous oxide from fertilized fields or the massacre of our rainforests to grow crops and raise livestock, it isn’t surprising that the non-meat eaters among us have had recent success increasing awareness around the negative effects caused by meat-eating diets through viral posts such as the Hidden costs of Hamburgers. In this video, produced by Reveal, they unmask some truly horrifying statistics; most staggeringly, in order to produce just one quarter-pounder burger, 6.5 lbs of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Perhaps it isn’t surprising then that in response many people lean towards the conclusion that the way we feed ourselves and others must change.
This does, however, raise the demanding question of “how?” How do we change? According to Livekindly, an estimated 6.5 million adults currently choose to follow a vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan lifestyle in the UK, so the seemingly common approach is to take up some form of ethical diet (something that’s becoming more and more popular with the rise of challenges such as “veganuary”). But, have all options been given the light of day? Some will argue they haven’t.
There’s no question that meats such as beef and pork are an unfeasible option for feeding the world’s rapidly increasing population. With 36% of the world's crop calories being fed to livestock, of those calories sometimes as much as 97% is being lost in the process. This shows how overwhelmingly inefficient meat-eating can be as a means of sustenance, and therefore presents a strong argument towards a plant-based diet. However, according to National Geographic, meat-eaters might not have to worry, as food experts have suggested that squirrels may be a viable option as an environmentally friendly meal.
Since the introduction of the American grey squirrel in the 1870s, there has been a rapid decline in the population of the native British red squirrel, primarily due to the competition for food and the spread of a poxvirus which is proving lethal for the red squirrels. This is the case presented by Britain’s recent “save our squirrels” campaign and other squirrel-eating enthusiasts, summed up by their punchy tagline: “Save a red, eat a grey”.
This solution to our agricultural nightmare does, of course, come with its own set of problems and emotional baggage; primarily, who would want to eat a squirrel?
Although it’s certainly not a common option for today’s dinner plates, it once was, especially when used in a Brunswick Stew. It wasn’t until research was published by neurologists Joseph Berger and Eric Weisman which suggested eating squirrels was linked to an illness, comparable to that of mad-cow disease, when squirrel was no longer commonly found in the kitchen. Even though later research shows that this conclusion is most likely untrue, the damage had been done and the public’s concern for squirrel-related illnesses dampened any sort of domesticated, mainstream squirrel eating.
But the question still stands, should vegans eat squirrels?
The answer isn’t straightforward. The reasons why one may choose to become vegan may initially be simple. Perhaps for some it’s purely down to environmental concern. If this were to continue being the sole reason for a vegan diet, then I would honestly advocate a squirrel-filled Brunswick Stew, why not “save a red”? However, as I have recently discovered by making the transition to vegetarianism, individual perspectives on controversial topics such as meat-eating sway rapidly and the reasons for staying vegan may very quickly change. For example, many build a sensitivity towards the industrial farming and animal cruelty that somehow, to this day, still fills our local supermarkets. In this case, eating animals is no longer a question of statistical pros and cons, but of emotion and principle. For some, consuming grey squirrels, no matter the potential benefits, seems haunting and remains morally improper.