I've been threatening to post about the delicious Eastern grey squirrel, and the time has finally arrived. Early fall presents a hustling, bustling time for adult squirrels as they scurry through our garden collecting all the food they can stuff into their tiny mouths to carry home for winter storage. The squirrels are grown now, so I feel comfortable taking some of them knowing that if I catch a female, she doesn't have babies somewhere that will starve to death.
The curious ask me if I'm concerned about the squirrel's diet, disease or urban pollutants. No, not at all.
First off, I know exactly what our squirrels have been eating: strawberries, squash, tomatoes, plums, Douglas fir seeds, apples and sunflower seeds. All summer long, directly from our garden and birdfeeders. Squirrels also eat bugs and on occasion will pick at carrion, though this is uncommon.
As for diseases, all meat is suspect these days unless cooked, regardless of the species, and we do cook the heck out of our squirrels. We do not eat squirrel brain, a delicacy in the southeast of the United States, as they are potential Creutzfeldt-Jakob (mad squirrel disease) vectors.
I don't have a definitive answer for the pollutant question, but for the sake of the planet, I'm willing to take a bit of risk. I did find a study on squirrels near a Superfund site in the northeast. None of the contaminants of concern were found in any of the squirrels tested. It's not the whole answer, but it's informative nonetheless.
Anecdotally, I've seen several videos of squirrels who will come running for organic corn chips, but will turn and run from GMO corn chips. So they won't just eat anything that's put before them, especially while there's plenty of good stuff in the vicinity (strawberries, tomatoes, squash, etc.)
"Melany, why do you eat squirrel when there are so many other delicious sources of protein available to you?"
- Eastern grey squirrels are an invasive species in western Washington. They are considered "vermin" by insurance companies, animal control agencies and the like. Some claim that Eastern grey squirrels have crowded our native squirrels out, though this continues to be debated.
- I am not in the "vegetarian is more humane and kinder to the planet" camp and can give you about a million reasons why that myth is untrue (but I save that for another entry).
- Unlike factory farmed animals, squirrels live a natural life doing what squirrels were born to do. They collect food, store it, raise babies, and scramble around tall trees and household gardens.
- Squirrel is healthy, lean meat,
- Relative to beef, squirrel has a lower food conversion ratio, they requires less food to gain body mass.
- Compared to soy and other protein monocrops, the squirrels' diet can be said to preserve biodiversity.
- Squirrels are frequently trapped and euthanized as a way to control damage to homes. Relocation is not an option and is generally not allowed for a variety of ecosystem health reasons.
- Squirrel meat is local (my front yard)
- Currently, the population of Eastern grey squirrels is very robust and certainly not in danger of decline.
- As small prey, squirrels give birth to a relatively high number of young each season, with nature's expectation that some will be taken by predators, only there are few predators in urban settings.
- There are several methods for humanely killing squirrels.
- Harvesting urban (or rural) Eastern grey squirrels for food does not break any local, state or federal law.
- Squirrel is easy to trap.
- It's F.R.E.E.!!!
- I am spiritually aware of my meal's sacrifice.
- Squirrel is easy to prepare.
- Squirrel meat is delicious (like rabbit, but darker, leaner meat).
- The use of Confined Animal Feedlots (CAFOs)
- Cruel treatment of animals
- Fed an unnatural diet of cheap corn
- Feed requires large monocrops of corn and soy
- Growth Hormones
- Resistant e-coli's
- Environmental impact
- Waste management
- High food conversion ratio
- Inhumane slaughter
- Unfair labor practices
- Huge carbon footprint (from pesticides to transporting cattle and finished meat products)
Squirrel has also recently become quite the popular dish in England. The British are doing everything they can to suppress the invasive Eastern grey squirrel population so as to relieve their native squirrel populations of a source of a deadly contagious disease, including eating them.
And while I don't care for his politics, I have to admire Huckabee for his resourcefulness.
As for the quality of the meat, usually in my neighborhood it is excellent. I was surprised to discover there is no gamey flavor such as you would find with venison, wild goose, etc. However, older animals can require a bit more cooking. I've also read accounts from people who were put off by the boniness. In my experience, the only challenge is taking the meat from the rib cage (which is solved by sliding each rib bone through your teeth so as to scrape the meat into your mouth). The rest of the squirrel is easy to debone.
And SO, over the past couple years, we have become quite comfortable with squirrel eating. If you don't believe the Brits, Mike Huckabee or me, even the ever famous Joy of Cooking cookbook contains instructions for dressing and cooking squirrel.
NOTE TO THE SQUEAMISH: Your reading stops here. The following is a description, with photos, of how to clean a squirrel.
|Bait a 17x7x7 "Havahart 1077" squirrel trap|
with a yummy "last supper" meal of crackers
and peanut butter.
In the interest of Mrs. Squirrel's dignity, I am
not posting photos of her demise. Rather, I
describe the means narratively, below.
How did I kill the squirrel? A simple drowning. I know, I know, it sounds horrifically inhumane on the surface, but let me explain my thinking process. From the moment it's trapped through the final moment of death takes all but a minute. Death by any other predator would, more often than not, take about the same period of time, often much longer. The actually drowning takes about 4 seconds. After researching things like lethal injection, gas chamber, blunt trauma to head, .22 or BB gun, the best option for the squirrel (as well as for the edibility of the meat) is drowning. I'm sure there are readers who will disagree, and I invite any suggestions for a more humane option.
I look at it this way: my meal lived a natural, free ranging life, experiencing one unpleasant minute - better than most living creatures could say (certainly better than most humans).
AFTERNOTE: After reading this story, my friend Jennie Grant, founder of the Goat Justice League, turned me on to something called a "Rat Zapper." I will still argue that drowning is more humane than most options. CO2 turns lungs acidic, causing pain; it also affects the meat). Shooting is not foolproof and I don't want to risk maiming an animal causing it to suffer, plus discharging a firearm in the city is strictly forbidden. I could reach into the trap and attempt to grab the squirrel to hold it still while I dispatch it in some other manner; however, judging by how "squirrely" they are, it would take me some time to catch one, even in the confinement of a trap, causing the squirrel prolonged stress. I watched my trap so that I could drown it immediately. My aim was to make it as quick as possible. Once the animal is unconscious, I sever the jugular vein to bleed it out. This ensures they are completely dead when I begin skinning them (unlike the many animals in factory farms that are skinned alive.)
Several sources on squirrel natural history claim that 99.9% of urban squirrels die either by being hit by vehicles (wouldn't be my first choice), being poisoned (a grizzly death), or by being pulled limb from limb by a dog, cat, hawk or coyote (WAYYYY down my list of "ways I'd like to go.")
Now, having said that, I far prefer using the Rat Zapper. It runs on four D batteries and kills the animal immediately by electrocution. I now use it exclusively. In the interest of the Seattle Times' schedule for publishing their story, I briefly reverted to the quicker method of trapping and drowning. I worried if I did not catch one soon, I would encroach on their breeding season and we would have to wait until next year (I don't trap in mid-winter, spring and summer as they are breeding and rearing their young.) Squirrels are a bit more wary around the rat zapper and it can take several days to finally take one.
Before using the Rat Zapper, I watched Youtube video of rats being trapped in this manner and I can confirm that death is instant.
To all my vegan readers, how is it we are so certain plants do not experience pain? Just because they don't have central nervous systems does not mean they do not experience anxiety and pain prior to death.
Second Afternote. Excerpted from the letters to the editor re 11/29/11 Seattle Times article on urban squirrel eating:
"I challenge you to find empirical evidence that drowning is a bad way to go. I've done a massive internet search and was unable to find anything. Even anecdotal evidence is missing. People who come back from a near death by drowning describe it as a peaceful experience once they're completely submerged. It's when they're splashing around at the water's surface that they experience the uncomfortable panic. There is reportedly no actual pain with drowning.
A couple things happen during drowning - the laryngeal adductor reflex prohibits the animal from taking a breath of water, there is brief panic and an attempt to escape the cage, the animal is rendered unconscious by asphyxiation. It seems to me it would take about 4-6 seconds for an animal with the lung capacity of a squirrel to be rendered unconscious.
She states in her blog that she slits their jugular as soon as they're unconscious to ensure a complete death (not just a stunning).
I've seen other stuff on the web that suggests 99.9% of urban squirrels go by 1 of 3 ways: car, dog/coyote/hawk/cat (yes, the precious pet YOU brought into the neighborhood!) or poisoning - all painful, drawn out ways to go.
Also - a lot of suggestions about somehow pinning the squirrel down to get a clean shot. How does that work without prolonging the panic/suffering?
I suppose you could also gas the little critter, but again, that requires some time and depending on the gas, pain. Seems you'd want to end the panic asap.
Sounds to me like she's done her research and has found the most humane, legal method available to her living in the city.
Everybody dies. Everybody experiences pain. Everybody eats to extend their time on the planet. Adults eventually "get" this painful reality and learn to live with it.
Oh, and one more thing, there is also no imperical evidence that plants do not experience panic and pain on being picked to eat. In fact, there's more evidence by the day suggesting otherwise.
Ms. Vorass - if you're out there reading these - please don't let the knuckleheads here get you down. You're doing a great thing by going beyond merely talking the talk.