The Ultimate, Ultra-Green, Eco-Friendly Exotivore Diet
By Tom Hurst, 25 December 2006
As I was having dinner with some vegetarian friends recently, I had a rather interesting epiphany - one that has the power to change the world. Seriously! The triggering event was the process of ordering a Thai meal wherein everyone at the table shares various entrees. Until we sat down I had sort of forgotten that my friends did not eat meat of any sort, but as we perused the menu I was painfully reminded of just how difficult it is to find things that we would all eat. You see, I'm a committed omnivore - I'll eat just about anything in moderation. But I do prefer balance: an all vegetable meal just won't do. I'm not sure exactly why most normal people get ravenously hungry just hours after gorging on a vegetarian feast, but I really do find that particular folk wisdom true. So, omnivory it is, for me anyway.
The point of all this is that it lead to an interesting exploration of why my friends eat nothing but vegetables. For them, it has little to do with taste per se, nothing to do with cost, and wasn't really a major health concern. It turns out - surprise - that they were political eaters making a statement: Save the Planet! In fact, eco-friendly diets are all the rage among the socially conscious these days for several good reasons. Raising and then eating domestic animals, science tells us, is very inefficient compared to our just eating the crops the animals would consume. Further, the large agri-businesses that arise to feed our livestock are sometimes not very eco-friendly, and even range-fed animals often do great damage to ecosystems around the world. And as for ocean life - well, rampant over-fishing is a quintessential "tragedy of the commons" problem that invariably arises where private property rights don't exist. Finally, meat and the infrastructure to produce it consumes lots of energy, and some folks think we Americans use far too much. So, in my friend's eyes, their decision to not eat animals not only helps preserve certain ecosystems, but allows more people to eat using less land, less fertilizer and less energy. One big happy village! I certainly can't fault them for this and, thankfully, they didn't seem to have any socialistic ideas about getting government to control what is produced or limit my right to eat what I please. At least not yet.
Realizing that we all profit from a healthy planet - personal tastes in food aside - this got me to thinking about just how "green" one's diet could be. Biologists, of course, have various terms that describe what organisms consume. Omnivores like me eat just about anything, and I think a strong argument can be made that since ancient humans evolved as omnivores, to be healthy we should continue to be omnivores. Carnivores like dogs or cats primarily eat meat, i.e. other animals. Not very efficient according to the above argument I suppose, but they are filling a niche. I don't even want to think about insectivores, though even some human cultures eat such stuff, usually fried or covered in chocolate. Herbivores eat vegetation, though that name implies that they be ruminants like cows; humans who eat only plants are more properly called vegetarians. Ironically, nearly every vegetarian that I know eats a little chicken or fish, or dairy products, or eggs according to their particular tastes, so they're really not pure vegetarians to my mind. And vegan, I believe, is the proper term for people who eat only plants - often raw - and are therefore the most eco-friendly... or are they?
Now we're to the epiphany part. What if one could not just preserve nature through their eating habits, as many vegetarians and vegans claim to do, but go beyond that to actually *restore* planet earth to its former glory? Surely vegetarians, vegans and socially conscious people of all degrees should abandon their current diets immediately and jump on this super-charged, "save the Earth" diet bandwagon. What is my wonder diet, you ask, this diet that is clearly superior even to that of the supposedly saintly vegans? As the creator, I've taken the liberty of coining a new term for it: such people will be called Exotivores or, if you wish, Exoticarians - meaning that they eat only exotic organisms, be they animal or vegetable. No, I don't mean exotic as in strange or interesting, but as in the biologist's definition of "exotic" that refers to species that are not native to an ecosystem. This concept is important scientifically because the inter-connected nature of all aspects of an ecosystem - plants, animals, geology, and climate - demands that they evolve, and hence work most efficiently, as a system. And the introduction of foreign things almost always upsets the balance of nature mightily. Unfortunately, nearly everywhere on this planet, man has by design or by accident caused many such disruptions, disruptions that can be fixed only by removing the offending organism. This is where my exotivores would enter the game. They will eliminate the exotics by simply eating them out of existence in their non-native habitat.
Now we're at the heart of my new ultra-earth-friendly diet. What kinds of animals or plants could one eat, you ask? Well, in part that depends on where the animals or plants are harvested. For instance, animals in their native habitat should not be eaten - nature will keep the balance there - but that same species may very well be an exotic on another continent. There'll be plenty to go around though, as nearly every continent on the planet has an abundance of ecosystem destroying, introduced, exotic species. In New Zealand one could dine with impunity on European red deer and possum, while in Hawaii one would be eating pigs and goats. Australia would offer rabbit, camel and cane toads to the world. Unfortunately, unless one imports exotics from other countries, it's not so pleasant in the southwest U.S. - unless you're of French extraction... the main large exotic species would be horses and burros! Birds, fish and insects, too, can be exotics. Across north America we could eat pigeons, starlings, sparrows, Eurasian carp, and Zebra mussels. And just about anywhere in the world one could savor Norwegian Rat roast. As for plants, not being a vegetarian I'm not so knowledgeable about what might or might not be palatable, but I'm certain there are plenty that could be eaten - dandelions in North America, for one.
And to take exotivorism to the next level, even plants and animals that humans might not develop a taste for may very well be just fine for feeding livestock, exotic or not, or even pets. To the greens, the end effect would be the same: exotic species would be removed from their beloved disturbed ecosystem. Just think of exotivores as serving the vital purpose of restoring order to an ecosystem - much as scavengers like coyotes and birds of prey cleanse the environment by eating carrion. And there are economic benefits as well. Imagine the new jobs and industry created as the exotivore's eating habits create ever greater demand for exotic species on the table. Everyone will benefit as entepreneurs are made rich by cleaning the environment for the green movement - all courtesy of the free market, not government coercion. Who would have guessed that capitalists and greens would end up working together to save the planet? In this case, it seems that "eco"-friendly could mean both friendly to ecosystems and to economics! Exotivorism would be a true triumph of free-market economics over the arbitrary coercive power of government or democracy.
So, my message to all of you environmentally conscious vegetarians out there doing your best to save Mother Earth is that you can do much better. Start eating meat - and lots of it! Not just any meat, of course, but exotic species. You, too, can be on the cutting edge of the greenest, most eco-friendly eating program in history, the Exotivore diet! It'll nourish you, your soul, and Mother Earth! Let's be safe and sane, though, and not create or encourage radical exotivores who might come to believe that in some cases man is the truly ultimate exotic disturber of the environment. I, for one, don't want to see Soylent Green on the menu!
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