13 Animals Americans Should be Eating, as Told by Andrew Zimmern
EDITOR'S NOTE: It's so easy to go home after work and just microwave some chicken nuggets for dinner. But is it cool? Maybe so, but it would be cooler to completely buck tradition and go with something crazier, more exotic, and even more socially responsible! To wit, we asked Earth's greatest gastronomical globetrotter, Andrew Zimmern, to tell us which animals he thinks Americans should give a try. He gave us 13. Enjoy.
We are at a crisis point in America.
Too many children and adults go hungry every day. Too many Americans are getting sick on our over-commercialized food system. Eating well is a class issue. Obesity and diabetes are nearing epidemic proportions in terms of growth. One of many simple and important fixes is to diversify our diet.
Going vegetarian for a few meals a week and eating from a broader range of animal proteins would help balance a whole host of recent inequities. Access to food for all would improve, hunger insecurity would be eliminated, health benefits from food would be more abundant, economic development would take place, ecological improvements and animal rights would dramatically shift as reliance on factory animal production would fade... we can keep extrapolating here, but you get the point.
Here's a list of foods that I believe Americans would fall in love with if they just approached them with an open mind, and were able to sample them prepared by those that truly know how:
An animal with many breeds, several of which are excellent for eating. In Italy, China, and many other countries, the meat is very popular. These animals quickly come to harvest age and are easy to raise. Even the skin is beautiful to eat.
The best-tasting red meat on Earth, and also one of the healthiest kinds. Its fresh milk is insanely sweet, as if it was sugared. It ferments well and creates incredibly superb cheese, yogurt, and soured milk. Even the organs of this amazing animal taste better than its porcine and bovine cousins.
I could keep listing them for hours. I love bugs. And as the first person to popularize their eating in America, I take special pride in seeing their appreciation soar... but sadly, what’s not growing is their popularity as a center-of-the-plate protein. Indeed, there have been dozens of times when I've eaten bugs and sworn to myself never to try that species again. More importantly, those moments are dwarfed by the sheer tidal wave of joyful experiences I've had eating so many of the others.
Head to Mexico City and taste the myriad ways the chefs there cook up ant eggs, maguey grubs, nopales worms... then call me and tell me I'm wrong about their legitimate worthiness as basic comestibles.
They taste of what they eat, and you need to forget about all the rats you've seen in old Willard movies or late at night in NYC subway stations. From 20lb wild agouti, capybara, and a dozen others that eat wild fruits and nuts to cane- and rice-field rats, these animals are healthy, nutritious, and delicious. If you were to eat them in their countries of origin, you would be amazed at how superbly diverse their flavors are... and don't forget the guinea pig, the squirrel, the rabbit...
Speaking of rabbits, they are available, being raised for food right now in America, and underutilized by most. Clean and lean, this is one of the best meats you can be eating today. They are fast to raise, and stand up to any cooking preparation.
I'm not convinced snake meat can appeal to most. Too tinny and short on lasting flavor. Frogs and lizards, on the other hand, have deeper and more nuanced flavors and adapt to a variety of cooking techniques. If you've never had a large lizard like an iguana, fire-roasted and basted with sour orange juice, then you've missed a little piece of edible excellence.
They are all around us, in great quantities -- and 99% of the production in the US alone is exported. Whelks, conchs, murex, and a whole host of species of salt water gastropods fall into this category.
Simply put: the most popular meat in the world, but not in America. A travesty, considering how much we need more varieties of protein in our diet.
They’re everywhere, and they are almost all edible in some way. Many have reputations for being less than savory, but even seagulls, marsh hens, sparrows, and crows are all delicious when cooked properly.
American wild hoofed animals are what meat is supposed to taste like. Funny thing is that farm-raised ones taste pretty good too.
My favorite meat of the African hoofed venison family. Clean and mild, pale pink when cooked, delicate like veal, with a sublime texture and earthy flavor. Not gamey in any way. And they represent a large family of animals that can be quickly raised to a good size for eating, under humane guidelines.
Way over 90% of our American production of this delicious species goes overseas. Think about that.
Andrew Zimmern is the host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel. Follow him to more unlikely meats via @andrewzimmern.