Food & Drink
Sunday, 30 January 2011 06:55
By Alex Holder
Frank Zappa’s saying, “The mind is like a parachute... It doesn’t work unless it’s open,” is one I believe every man should adopted.
The citing of this proverb was deliberate, as understanding the content of this piece would require something of an open mind. More like “catch-up,” as a significant portion of the world has, thousands of years ago, unwrapped their minds to the reasoning you’re about to ingest.
Terms like “delicacy,” “cuisine,” “delight,” “appetizer,” “main-meal,” and “traditional” are among those used to discuss the escargot – Giant African Snails – that we in Antigua have considered exterminating through quarantine and malicious hunting.
Various animal species the world over have become extinct because of man’s inability to understand their true potential, outside of their seemingly destructive - in our perception - nature.
Giant African Snails (Land Snails) have and continue to be a delight in Asia, Europe, and some parts of Africa, and stand firm in most parts of the United States and Canada. Some are even reared for their meat and shells, while others are kept as pets and integrated into human families.
In the Caribbean however, they are considered of “quarantine significance,” requiring the creation of a “buffer zone” because they “pose a threat not only to the agricultural sector, but to human health, trade, tourism, and the environment". Steps to “eliminate” them have been well publicised.
Research shows quite the contrary, as this particular specie has been known for its health benefits, trade benefit, and open a new market in tourism considering the kinds of people who appreciate its delight.
Snails, particularly the Giant African specie, have been so misconstrued here in Antigua that they caused a rift in the administration of an entire ministry, when a segment was uprooted from their main home in Jolly Hill and deposited in Cooks Dump, adding to the already undesirable bunch in the area.
Even residents were uneasy about their unexpected new neighbours and chastised the government for committing such a grave error.
These creatures were initially spotted in Antigua in 2008, when over 37,000 were discovered in the Jolly Hill area, and just over 5,000 in Cooks.
Other snails causing some level of discomfort in Antigua are those in Liberta, All Saints, Cades Bay, and Brownes Avenue. These are the Cuban or South American snails.
According to www.diateryfiberfood.com
, “Snail recipes vary from cuisine to cuisine.” A publication on that website highlights studies on the nutritional value of snails, and class them as being high in protein and low in fat content.
I need not speak of its physical demeanor, as most Antiguans have by now familiarized themselves with the outward appearance of the creature.
Nonetheless, the website goes on to note, “It is estimated that snail is 15% protein, 2.4% fat, and about 80% water.” This makes snail a healthy alternative food for people with high-protein-low-fat diet requirements.
“Snail is high in health benefiting essential fatty acids such as linoleic acids and linolenic acids," the publication says. "A study on a snail species in Brazil estimated that 75% of the fat in snail is unsaturated fatty acids. That is 57% polyunsaturated fatty acids, 15.5% of monounsaturated fatty acids, and 23.25% of saturated fatty acids."
Further, an AFP report published on January 18 suggests that a Russian company has harnessed the services of the giant snails to monitor air pollution from a sewage incinerator.
With this in mind, one would wonder how the agriculture ministry came to the conclusion that its abundance on the island stands as a tourism-deterrent and not an attraction for its benefits as a cuisine. Their potential impact on trade is also worth mentioning, as the rearing of the creature could open doors for business with the continents that take the cuisine seriously. Their revolutionary breakthrough as an effective instrument for weather detection is also notable.
Agriculture Minister Hilson Baptiste used to be a chef. Why, as it appears, didn’t he notice, or rather voice the benefits regarding the creatures in a light the world over has grown to adapt? This warrants some thought.
Anyone interested can find useful culinary tips for this misunderstood creature at www.shebafoods.com
which offers a variety of recipes for the high protein, low fat, textured creature, while writer Tim Hayward of www.guardian.co.uk
blogs a curious piece about the cooking approach in a exposé titled "Hard as Snails."