This story isn’t about food, really, but it could have been. It’s about the use of fur from the toothy beast known as the nutria (a.k.a. swamp rat) in the world of fashion, and the attempt to market its pelt as “ethical fur.”
By Anna Jane Grossman, for the NYT: Is Their Pest Your Clean Conscience?
[U]nlike other soft and furry animals, nutria is being rebranded as a socially acceptable and environmentally friendly alternative way to wear fur. The effort culminates this Sunday, when Ms. Melancon and about 20 designers take part in a “righteous fur” fashion show at the House of Yes, an art space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Whence the ethics angle? Well, see in the swamps of Louisiana, the nutria is a pest — indeed, an ecological menace.
in the 1980s, the nutria population soared and started to endanger the fragile ecosystem. The invasive rodent eats away the bottom of the plants that hold the coastal wetlands together.
In 2002, Louisiana started paying trappers and hunters $5 for every nutria killed. The effort to control the nutria population had some success, with bounty hunters killing about 400,000 animals last year. But the carcasses were simply discarded or left to rot in the swamp.
The solution? Rather than let the rodents go entirely to waste, harvest their pelts and make them into coats, hats, etc.
OK, so the food angle? Wikipedia’s entry on nutria (also known as “coypu”) notes:
Coypu meat is lean and low in cholesterol. While there have been many attempts to establish markets for coypu meat, all documented cases have generally been unsuccessful.
So, if those who shun fur are tempted by the nutria’s “ethical” fur, are there vegetarians who would be tempted by the nutria’s “ethical” meat? Added bonus: as the story notes, nutria is organic and free range.
I’ll give the last (hilarous) word to an artisan quoted in the NYT story:
Jessica Radcliffe, a New Orleans dollmaker and performance artist, won’t use leather in her work but has made several nutria stoles. “I personally don’t want to be in a position where I have to kill an animal,” she said. “But if it’s them or us, I don’t want to be a lily-livered sissy about it.”