MIAMI – Snails rights advocates picketed outside the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables yesterday to protest the addition of giant African snails to the menu of the hotel’s Palme d’Or restaurant.
Members of the PETA group, which was estimated at “around a dozen” by local police, walked slowly—one is tempted to say sluggishly— in front of the hotel for about an hour.
“Snails are sentient beings,” said PETA member Robin Carson. “They have feelings and interests just like we do, and it’s nothing short of barbarous to eat them.”
The Giant African snail (Achatina fulicais) is the Hummer of its class. Adults are ten inches long and four inches wide. They weigh two pounds and are capable of speeds up to half a mile an hour. They are also “one of the most damaging land snails in the world,” according to a Florida environmentalist. That is why they are allowed into the United States by special permit only.
The Lane Bryant-size snails first appeared in South Florida in 1966 after a boy had sneaked three out of Hawaii and turned them loose in Miami. Because they reproduce like rabbits on fertility drugs, Florida spent more than $1 million to rid itself of the those snails and their descendants; but others have taken their place, and they’re hungry.
So apparently are some of the counter-demonstrators who showed up at the Biltmore yesterday.
“These snail huggers ought to mind their own damn business,” said Jose Canteras, a line cook at a Miami restaurant. “Snails are nothing but rats with shells. Besides they’re a good source of free protein in a tough economy. I’d rather see a snail in garlic and butter than in a petting zoo.”
Giant African snails eat at least five hundred types of plants and lay twelve hundred eggs a year. They can munch their way through stucco and plaster; they carry a strain of non-fatal meningitis; and they live as long as your average bulldog. Since they were first spotted in Miami by two traumatized sisters last month, roughly a thousand snails have been collected from a one-square-mile area.
The edible part of a snail is its foot, the rubbery appendage the snail uses to cling to rocks. A giant snail’s foot is at least as big as the palm of your hand. Its texture has been described as somewhere between an undercooked artichoke heart and the cartilage of an athlete’s knee, with “just a tad more disquieting crunch.”
PETA members downplay the free-food argument.
“Children, even poor children, have access to a variety of inexpensive non-meat food sources,” said Ms. Carson. “If we allow snails to be boiled alive to satisfy decadent gourmet tastes, we’re opening the door to other abuses like snail racing, snail rodeos, and snail fighting.”
Snail fighting, the slow food equivalent of cock fighting, is popular in many of the East African villages that are the snails’ ancestral homes.
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