Snail alert

03-05-2003

Food is one of life's pleasures. People like talking about it, they like watching it prepared on TV and more than anything they love eating it. Some people I know read cook books the way others read a novel or detective story. And one of the most passionate TV debates I ever saw was not about the war on Iraq or the monthly salaries of Czech politicians. It was an argument between a farmer and a vegetarian. The farmer was merry, ruddy-faced and loud voiced and arrived in the studio armed with a roast goose. His opponent was a thin, pale lawyer who had embraced vegetarianism some years ago. On his side of the table was a bowl of what the farmer described as "birdfeed". The debate was great - with the lawyer accusing the farmer of murdering living things and gorging on their corpses -and the farmer telling the young man that maybe birdfeed gave him enough nourishment to sit in an office but wouldn't survive an honest day's work at the farm on the seedlings that he had for lunch. There are now quite a few vegetarian restaurants in Prague but most people living in the country still prefer to see a big slice of meat on their plates - a nice pork roast, a leg of mutton, or a fat home grown chicken. Once or twice a year there are pig-slaughter get-togethers when the meat is processed and salted to be stored for the coming months and killing a fattened rabbit or goose for Sunday lunch is nothing out of the ordinary.

Although I never could eat rabbits after having had them as pets as a child and I doubt I would survive the smells and sights of a pig-slaughter event -I must admit that the chickens I pick up at the supermarket have seen much worse treatment than farm animals. From what I see when I'm out in the country farm animals live a very good life until - the axe descends. Of course, Czech cows would be much better off in India and Czech pigs in the Arab world. But there are still plenty of species which are safe here - nobody is going to fry bugs and beetles for lunch. Czech frogs are much safer than French frogs- people here actually give them a helping hand across the road when they set off to a distant breeding ground. And snails - well, Czech snails were perfectly safe in the old days. Unfortunately, cross border trade has had an adverse effect on their present day lives. They are very popular in France and increasingly so in neighbouring Germany- and because they are an easy catch many Czechs living close to the border have got into the habit of snail hunting. Now some of the local authorities have decided to put their foot down and protect the species while it is still around. Several towns have issued bans on hunting snails in the wild - and hopefully snails who are on "free for all" territory will hurry to these safe oases. One thing is in their favour - Czechs are fairly conservative when it comes to food -and I just don't see snails as becoming a popular local dish.

03-05-2003