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Small critters should land in more of Seattle's ethical meals

Eating on the Edge: Americans tend to eat large animals, the less to be confronted with dinner's cuteness, and only select parts of them, creating environmental questions about resources. Eating smaller animals would help.

Bernie Nash with some of the eggs he raises

Bernie Nash with some of the eggs he raises Hugo Kugiya, all rights reserved

Grilled quail

Grilled quail Hugo Kugiya

Roasted squab

Roasted squab Hugo Kugiya

The night after the slaughter, Bernie Nash does not sleep very much if at all, spending most of the evening packing small carcasses into boxes. Deep into the night, he drives his cargo three hours and nearly 200 miles from his farm in Ephrata to south Seattle, where he unloads his Ford pickup truck at a warehouse just as dawn breaks.

He makes this trip twice a week, sometimes adding a second drop of meat on Orcas Island before returning home to Ephrata, again in the dark.

Nash is the farmer of choice for many of the area’s fine restaurants, with names many of us know well, a real guy with a real farm who raises real animals. When we talk about fashionable concepts like organic, free range, and local, we are talking collectively about people more or less like Nash, a one-person operation mostly (he gets help from two of his children) that he calls Mad Hatcher Poultry.

"People these days just want to know where their food comes from," Nash said, "and who raised it and under what conditions. You don’t have to be certified organic to raise animals in a good husbandly way."

His distributor in Seattle is Corfini Gourmet, which buys most of his eggs and birds and sells them in smaller quantities to chefs and grocers. (In a nutshell, that is pretty much what goes on in the SoDo area of the city day after day; large amounts of things, be they fish, countertops, electrical cable, or fabric, get sold off in smaller amounts to individual merchants.) Nash's truck is a half-ton, which he is outgrowing. He is such a reliable supplier that Corfini intends to give him a used, refrigerated van to deliver his stock, which typically consists of a few thousand eggs.

He raises free-range chickens, killed and plucked hours before they arrive at Corfini, of various ages and sizes. The youngest and smallest chickens, about a month old and weighing a little more than a pound, are sold as poussin. Slightly larger chickens are sold as game hens, the largest as roasters. He also makes a November delivery of heritage-breed turkeys. But what sets him apart are the less common critters that are growing, albeit slowly, in popularity: squab, quail and rabbit. He raises all three mostly for high-end restaurants and sells them through Corfini.

Small game has been a part of traditional diets around the world for centuries (for example, guinea pig is relatively common food in South America, sparrows in Asia, rats in Africa) but is mostly absent from the modern American diet, which favors big animals and revolves around the trinity of beef-pork-chicken. Turkey hits the table once a year in whole form and hangs around the rest of the year in sliced-and-processed form. Duck makes a special guest appearance once in a while, as does lamb, and occasionally deer or venison. Elk, beefalo, ostrich, and alligator are about as exotic as meat gets, but like our mainstream meat, they are large animals. Even our preferred fish tends to be large: salmon, halibut, cod, tuna.

Our tendency toward large animals is probably related to our preference for filleted meat, and our denial mechanism that allows us to eat animals we do not recognize as such. A slab or rectangle of meat is less jarring, and easy on our senses. A halibut fillet does not look unlike a piece of tofu or a slice of bread, whereas there is no disguising a small critter served whole on the bone, which is about the only way you can serve something the size of squab or the even smaller quail.

Whether it out of habit or preference, or because of the head-and-bones issue (we don’t like them), we do not eat small animals. But if we care about sustainable animal husbandry, if we are trying to take back the night from Big Corporate Food Inc. (and the farmer’s markets on every avenue suggest we are), then perhaps we should, if only in the interests of diversity. With food and with stocks, the safer way to go is to diversify. Own a little bit of everything, and eat a little bit of everything.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Sep 16, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I, too, had the Bamboo Village squab. Hadn't gone in planning to order it, but once I saw it on the menu I knew I couldn't pass it up.

I would very much like for smaller animals and variety meats to be more widely available. I only know of two places to get steak and kidney pie, for example: Kells in Pike Place Market and the British Pantry in Redmond. You'd think Pies and Pints, just a few blocks from my Roosevelt apartment, would have it, but no such luck.

Serve it (or sell it in stores outside the ID) and I will come.

Posted Fri, Sep 17, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I have a great recipe for "Banana Slugs" - if you call them "Seattle Escargot"...http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name

mikerol

Posted Fri, Sep 17, 9:42 a.m. Inappropriate

As to squab:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squab_%28food%29

For other uses, see Squab.
Squab breast served at a French restaurant

In culinary terminology, squab (probably of Scandinavian descent; skvabb, meaning "loose, fat flesh")[1] is the meat from a young domestic pigeon. The word squab was formerly used to describe young birds from several species, but has since come to mean young pigeons and their meat.[2][3] Squabs are raised to the age of roughly a month before being killed for eating;[3][4][5] they have reached adult size but have not yet flown.[3] The practice of domesticating pigeon as livestock may have come from the Middle East;[6] historically, squab or pigeons have been consumed in many civilizations, including Ancient Egypt, Rome and Medieval Europe.[3] There is more information about recipes including squab eaten by rich people than those that poor people used.[4] Although squab has been consumed throughout much of recorded history, squab is not usually a staple food in modern times, and may be considered peculiar or exotic.[3] The modern squab industry uses utility pigeons and may use two-nest methods or selective breeding to improve yield.[5][7][8]

mikerol

Posted Fri, Sep 17, 9:50 a.m. Inappropriate

What about mice & rats? Pioneer Sq is full of them and I understand that people eat them in India. We could easily raise cages of rats and fry them up. Or wrap one in dough and sell them at the fair.. rat dogs!

(No wonder some people are vegetarians...)

Who authorizes these articles anyway?

GaryP

Posted Fri, Sep 17, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

We are doing ridiculous things... hauling in trainfulls of grain, hauling away trainfulls of manure, while tons and tons of nutritious meat walk through our yards and munch away on our gardens and kill our fruit trees.

In Victoria, BC, the University is overrun with rabbits. They could be trapped, butchered, and eaten. But instead, they're being trapped, sterilized, and shipped 2,000 miles away to a rabbit sanctuary!

Don't like to eat small animals? That's okay, there are large ones available for the taking: deer. Now that we've eliminated the top predators, most areas are overrun with deer. They decimate our gardens, they drive up auto insurance rates -- some of them have even become so bold as to attack people! But the "Bambi Factor" keeps them from being harvested by more than a few hunting enthusiasts.

Humans make very poor top predators. As fossil energy goes away, we'll return to eating deer, rabbits, and even rats. But we could stretch out our fossil energy and reduce the impact of climate change if we'd start doing that now.

Posted Fri, Sep 17, 10:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Please, someone supply cheese made from Orcinus orca milk. How northwest would that be?

andy

Posted Fri, Sep 17, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

The northern Vietnamese are quite fond of thit cho, the meat of a small mammal that they prepare in a number of ways -- steamed, grilled, in soups, as sausage. If Seattleites took to eating thit cho, there are substantial public benefits that could be experienced:

-- Reduced need to exterminate surplus small mammals in animal shelters;
-- Less fecal waste contamination in public places;
-- No necessity for painful invasive veterinary procedures to sterilize an entire class of mammals.

For those not committed in principle to vegetarianism, there are many compelling reasons to support adding thit cho to our carnivore diet.

woofer

Posted Sun, Sep 19, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't think my neighbor's dog, Marley, would appreciate that suggestion, "woofer"! :)

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