Alligator, Earthworm and Champagne

“… It was my understanding that I was going to participate in a dignified ritual. Here I was, in an estancia (ranch) surrounded by mountains and lakes, where cattle still roam free and horses are the main means of transportation. I wanted to respect what the cow had lived for. I wanted to be there and honor her death and the legacy she would leave behind. Instead, what I witnessed, was a brutal and perverted act of barbary. From the kill to the skinning, everything was done with disdain. I found myself sad, not for her death, but for us, humans and how, even in the most remote places imaginable, where one would expect the deepest communion with nature, how disconnected we have become …” excerpt from my story W.H. Hudson

I am a meat and fish eater and I surely don’t hide my love for it. I do not believe or prescribe that one diet fits everyone. Much has been said about the Blood Type diet, and I do side with this belief. My body simply doesn’t work well and can’t process milk and grain product. But give it a Paleo diet and it thrives. I take good care of choosing where my meat comes from and refuse to eat mass processed food, whether they are veggies or anything else. My bottom line is that if I don’t understand the ingredients, then I my body won’t either.

I do not believe that being vegetarian or vegan is THE solution for our food problem. Independently of the food we eat, it is the scale of consumerism that is simply unsustainable. Jungles in South America are being cut not for cattle but for soy. Corn and soy are over 90% GMO. And when Oprah Winfrey proclaimed the benefits of the Acai berry on her show, she sent the entire small local sustainable harvest into an unbalanced one that didn’t know how to answer the sudden demand.

As I have written in my story W.H. Hudson, it is easy to judge one’s diet when grocery shopping from decadent temples of food consumerism where everything is available at any time of the year. Nature has no place in these stores and its seasonal rhythm is seen with annoyance. So it makes sense to fly apples from New Zealand during winter so that our food habits don’t get interrupted and critic anyone who goes fishing or hunting at the source.

Last weekend, I was in New York for the Explorers Club annual gathering, hosted like every previous year, at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel, on Park avenue. The Club has had a long tradition of serving exotic dishes prior to its gala dinner. This year was no different – as one can read from the NY Times article in the Diner’s Journal. On the menu were muskrat, beaver, alligator, ostrich, boar, goat, earthworm, cockroaches and more. The display didn’t go well at all with many of my fellow explorers / environmentalists. I don’t really tend to side with the “Veggie People”, but in this case I do – simply not for the same reasons as theirs. Before I explain myself, let me point to the irony of the NY Times’ article – James Cameron is chosen to quote on the exotic buffet, while in reality he is an avid promoter of eating nothing but vegetables!

I do oppose the bizarre culinary ritual for the following reason – I simply do not think it is justifiable. It is one thing to find yourself in the wilderness and share the local food habits, but paying $400 to gorge on exotic animals while dressed in a tuxedo, drinking champagne on one of the most expensive streets in the world doesn’t sound “Explorer’ish” to me. It might have worked in the past to attract fundraising from a crowd that knew so little of the outside world, but in today’s reality – I strongly believe that it doesn’t have its place. In fact I think that the practice is childish, provocative and quite frankly rude.

Most of these animals can be eaten in a sustainable way. In fact I have visited places, like in Argentina where a caiman farm has not only helped reduce poaching, but also has increased the population in the wild. The problem is mainly one of consideration and social etiquette. In a world of many diets, strong opinions and social media, these kind of events just don’t cut it.

Judging from the emails in my inbox, I don’t think that the Explorers Club is getting any good publicity and will certainly not increase its membership this way either. It is the second time that I witness the food served at ocean or nature related events backfiring. The other instance was at the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, when James Cameron received his award and told the crowd that going veggie was the way of the future, only that have the following diner served steaks! I know that the Pacific Voyagers Foundation made it clear that it wouldn’t get involved anymore if the Summit didn’t change its food policy. The result was that at the beginning of the year, Blue Ocean announced that it was now moving forward with a strictly vegetarian menu.

I don’t think that the Explorers Club should do the same but getting rid of that culinary farce is surely a priority. In a place where exploration should ride on the same level as honoring nature, champagne and alligator are more barbaric anachronisms than anything else. Mind as well go ahead and serve shark fin soup and rhinoceros powder – of course from sustainable farm!

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1 Comment

  1. Daniel,

    James Cameron Challenge:
    Here is the video & transcript of the speech given by James Cameron; as far as I know it doesn’t exist anywhere else, if your readers want to see it in full:

    The Explorers Club is such an extraordinary bunch, with a combination of both expedition travel skills as well as above-average scientific backgrounds. Rare is the person who has achieved either one of those; much less both. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with Buzz Aldrin, Fred McLaren and a few others from that group.

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