by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Snakes

Apr 29 2024

More on snakes: from culinary marvels to conflicted science

Last week I posted a debate about the health and environmental consequences of eating snakes, mainly because it never occurred to me that anyone would take it seriously.  I thought it was funny.

Shows you what I know.  Busted.

The eating-snakes-is-sustainable position was based on a study that I obviously had not read.

But a reader, Michael Tlusty, did.  He says the paper raises two issues.

His first has to do with the newsletter that posted the story,  He says:

Nowhere in the story does the reporter link to the actual research paper (Natusch, D., Aust, P.W., Caraguel, C. et al. Python farming as a flexible and efficient form of agricultural food security. Sci Rep 14, 5419 (2024). – I see this a lot – why can’t journalists properly acknowledge scientific efforts?

His second is a critique of the study methods.

they compare ectotherm farming of snakes to that of salmon – however, the data for salmon farming comes from 2011 and 1998. There have been significant improvements since then, so they are biasing their analysis to favor the current snake data. Furthermore, I doubt that salmon would be the substitute for snake. Species more like tilapia and carp would be, and these fish can be fed with completely vegetarian diets. So yes while the invasiveness of pythons is a primary con as you point out, the authors inflate the benefit of snake eating relative to other more substitutable foods.

And then comes the kicker—the reason why I am posting this on Monday when I usually post items about conflicted science.

 And in the spirit of your newsletter, in the ethics declaration on the paper, it states “This work was partly funded by an initiative working to better understand snakes used in the leather trade, which is itself partially funded by companies that use snake skins. ” – so this is an attempt to make luxury snake skin items more “palatable” by turning snake farming into a food security argument.

I am always grateful to hear from sharp-eyed readers, even when they catch me violating a firm principle that dates back to my time in molecular biology graduate school: Always read the original paper.  No exceptions.

As I said, busted.

On a lighter note, it turns out eating snakes is a thing (maybe you knew this already?).  According to this week’s New Yorker, it’s a sign of masculinity in Oklahoma.  I commend this article to your attention: How to Eat a Rattlesnake.

Thanks to Jennifer Wilkins for sending it.  She, by the way, has a new Substack: Eat Right Here.

Addition: Can we really eat invasive species into submission? (thanks to Stephen Zwick for sending)

Apr 25 2024

Food debate of the week: Eat snakes?

I kn0w you wwill want to know about this.  Take your pick:


Eating snakes offers ‘healthy and sustainable’ protein source:  A new study has found that python meat could represent a more sustainable source of protein compared to conventional animal meat…. Read more

However, a new study co-authored by Dr Daniel Natusch and Dr Patrick Aust, among others, has suggested that the commercial farming of snakes could help improve agricultural food security and offer a more sustainable alternative to meats such as beef and pork.

The researchers came to this conclusion after measuring the growth rates of two large python species called Malayopython reticulatus and Python bivittatus at farms in Thailand and Vietnam. ..When comparing the food and protein conversion ratios of pythons with other animals, the researchers said that the snakes outperformed all other mainstream agricultural species that have been studied up until now.

‘Python tastes like a cross between chicken and calamari’


For one thing, pythons are not native to North America, and they can be a threat to foreign ecosystems. South Florida, for example, already has a Burmese python problem due to escapees from the exotic pet trade…in places that do farm reptiles, snake escapes are pretty common. It may sound dramatic, but if we become a snake farming country, we should be prepared for the possibility of rogue pythons on the loose, eating whatever other animals (farm or pet) they come into contact with.

To meet wide demand, python farming in the U.S. would have to go the industrial agriculture (aka, factory farming) route, and that’s guaranteed to have negative ecological consequences…For instance: snakes may mostly eat “waste” animals, like rodents that we consider pests and want to exterminate anyway, but that will cease to be practical if an entire snake meat industry crops up where there wasn’t one before. (In fact, there’s already an entire mouse farming industry dedicated to feeding pet snakes.)


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