Feedback on Eating Turtle

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Would you eat this happy fellow? Readers didn't like the idea that this magazine would even suggest eating turtle.

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

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

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?

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

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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