Feedback on Eating Turtle

Readers were hissing mad about an article on foraging that recommended eating turtle meat.
By John Shuttleworth and the MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers
March/April 1972
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Would you eat this happy fellow? Readers didn't like the idea that this magazine would even suggest eating turtle.

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As usual, we very much enjoy MOTHER EARTH NEWS with its many interesting and useful articles. However, Paul was reading "Food Without Farming" while eating lunch and it spoiled his meal completely.

First there was Mr. Churchill's description of catching, killing, and cooking pigeons. "We keep the pigeons in a cage until we're ready to do something delectable with them", he says, indicating his jolly sense of humor.

Next he discusses the "terrific" deer hunting in Wisconsin where "an individual can legally harvest four deer a year. Multiply this by the number of licenses in a family ... a total of approximately 100,000 deer are taken every year." Quite the conservationist.

The part about eating turtle hit closest to home since we have a small, harmless and delightful snapping turtle named Otis. Imagine awakening a peacefully hibernating turtle with "the largest fish hook you can find"! When Mr. Churchill says to "give short quick jerks until he's hooked underneath the rim of his shell," it appears to us that one must inevitably impale the turtle with the hook. Snappers are poorly protected underneath and it seems impossible that one could hook them just by the rim of the shell. It would be necessary to hook the flesh.

The horribly ironic thing about that article is that elsewhere in the same issue it includes the insightful quotation from Joseph Wood Krutch ("When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him a vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God, we call him a sportsman.") as well as the grisly details of James E. Churchill's plundering and killing.

Johanna and Paul Hutchinson
St. Catharine, Ontario

I was extremely disturbed by James Churchill's "Food Without Farming" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

In case the author doesn't realize it, turtles are rapidly becoming an endangered species. Although there's been no "official" word, it appears that the number of turtles and other reptiles in this country is rapidly decreasing.

The habitats of turtles, including snappers, are being destroyed by the filling in of swamps and ponds for new homes, shopping malls, and highways (not to mention landfills, etc.). Furthermore, turtles are often captured right after birth (and then sold in huge quantities to pet stores). Usually, through lack of knowledge or negligence, they die soon after.

Snapping turtles are thought to be dangerous predators and many people kill them on sight for this reason alone. Actually, they serve a valuable ecological role: they're aquatic scavengers who live off dead and decaying organic matter (other dead and sick animals) and so help keep lakes and ponds clean and prevent unhealthy species from reproducing.

OK, that's the scientific part. Turtles have a right to live! There aren't many left and they should be protected. But beside that, does Mr. Churchill think that killing a sleeping (hibernating) snapper is sport? Wow!

I've taught biology and also run an environmental nature zoo, so I've had plenty of opportunity to observe snappers and other turtles. They're quite intelligent, and kids really dig learning about them and watching their activities. These kids — and all people — must be taught to respect life and not be hung up on killing ... ESPECIALLY if animals like the snapper are having a hard time surviving.

Churchill's article reminded me of the hunter-oriented magazines I see on the newsstands. There's already been enough destruction of wildlife. Shouldn't you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, be more responsible (you usually are) about what you print? Churchill's article was a down.

Barry Oblas

It's always amazing that no one ever questions the idea of foraging wild plants, but a great hue and cry always goes up when anyone suggests adding wild birds and animals to the diet. Barry, Johanna, and Paul raise admittedly valid points here, but overlook, I think, much larger points which are just as valid.

There is no question that shopping centers and subdivisions are infringing on snapping turtle habitat as Barry suggests, but other works of man are vastly increasing that same habitat. During the past 30 years, thousands and thousands and thousands of homestead and farm ponds have been built in this country and — as a Midwest farm boy — I know firsthand that this has created hundreds of thousands of acres of new turtle homes well-stocked with the young fingerling fish and waterfowl that snapping turtles so dearly love. I don't have any figures to back my feeling (only in-the-field observations) but I think a survey might well prove that the number of snapping turtles in this country is presently increasing. 

Now, I know how easily it is to get overwrought about catching, killing, and eating wild game, but I also wonder just what Paul was eating at that lunch we spoiled? Hope it wasn't hamburger or steak or pork chops or chicken or even fish fillets. Take a little trip through a slaughterhouse (where all the killing and cutting is done for us "civilized" folks) the next time you're in town and you may have a little more tolerance for those of us honest enough to harvest our meals on a one-to-one basis.

Which brings up another point. It ain't enough just to be "agin" something. Supposedly, MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers are interested in getting away from the artificial and "back" to a more natural life, but some of us seem to have given little thought to what we're running to. It would seem to me that living in natural harmony with a region would mean subsisting on the plants and animals native to that region. To use this continent as an example, sending our cows and pigs and chickens (and maybe the white man!) back to Europe and Asia, for instance, and learning to "farm" turtles, buffalo, and rabbits once again.

Of course, the vegetarians among us feel that they've sidestepped the whole issue when they refuse to eat meat, eggs, and related products, but I notice that most of them continue to wear leather shoes and I've always wondered what they think about the experiments that "prove" that plants have extremely sensitive feelings too.

It's awful hard to make judgments that will stick when all the facts are in, isn't it? — John Shuttleworth

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