I’ve not eaten this species as yet but that’s partly through lack of opportunity. I’ve yet to visit Iceland where they are often on the menu and are, apparently, readily available in supermarkets.
It’s interesting that the idea of eating this bird instils horror in people who might be happy enough to eat duck or goose or pheasant. On the face of it, Puffin as a food source has quite a bit going for it. They are abundant (in the places where they are taken for food), they are about as free range as it is possible to get, and because they are netted at breeding colonies, rather than shot, a meal does not come with the risk of denting your teeth – or your intelligence. It’s not pleasant that anything has to be killed just so we can eat it but if I had to choose a way to go then netting followed by humane dispatch would be right up there. Not least, it’s all or nothing. You are either caught and killed, or you escape unharmed; there is no chance of wounding followed by a prolonged and painful death as unavoidably happens so much of the time with shooting.
This, I think, is an example of System Justification Theory whereby we automatically and subconsciously adjust to, and are therefore more likely to accept, the status quo. Shooting Mallards or Rabbits to provide food is seen as more acceptable than killing Puffins for no other reason than that it has been happening here in Britain for a long time and we have all got used to it. The same thing helps to explain many of our responses to the exploitation or management of wildlife. Think about the outrage generated by the licenced killing of a few Buzzards compared with our far more relaxed attitudes towards the routine annual destruction of thousands of Carrion Crows and Magpies (birds that are far more intelligent). We might not support this killing but we tend not to get so worked up about it. Why should there be this difference?
I’m not suggesting that we start to eat Puffins (or, for that matter, allow more Buzzards to be killed). I’d see it the other way around; the theory helps to explain why change to current practices is so hard to achieve even when all the arguments are heavily stacked in your favour. Imagine trying to justify the introduction of a new sport called driven grouse shooting or a new proposal to release 40 million non-native chicken-sized birds into the landscape every year. Everyone would laugh at you. And yet, here we are, with most of the population seemingly content to live with both.
Previous ‘Wild food’ posts by Ian Carter: