The King of the Tacos

Today we offer a segment called “unlikely environmental headlines.” At what point do you think we will see either of these headlines?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service places cattle on the endangered species list

Scientists say bison population plummeting. WWF advocates listing as ‘threatened.’

My guess is that these are extremely unlikely to occur at any time in the near, or even distant, future. The first headline is patently absurd. If anything, environmentalists want fewer cows, not more. The second headline would not have been outlandish a few decades back but is now absurd, given that ranchers are now actually raising bison. In both cases, the reason for the animals’ abundance is that they are in demand by consumers at steak houses. Bison is now on the menu at restaurants beyond just Ted Turner’s joints.

So, my reaction to a big story last week was a bit different than the responses of others.

A restaurant in Tuscon decided not to sell tacos containing African lion meat after it received threats of violence. The AP reported that “Bryan Mazon, the owner of Boca Tacos and Tequila, said Monday that his Tucson eatery has received ‘many threats’ against the restaurant, family members, customers and vendors since he announced last week that he was taking prepaid orders for the exotic tacos.” In the past, the restaurant has offered tacos with python, alligator, elk, kangaroo, rattlesnake, oysters, turtle, duck and frog legs.

People have eaten stranger things than lion…and that’s just my in-laws. But I digress.

I assume the concern by those threatening violence is concern for the population of African lions. I can’t say that I would enjoy lion tacos, but if they did catch on, is there any reason to believe that the number of lions would increase as has occurred with bison? Making lions a valuable commodity is likely to increase their supply, giving lion ranchers (and those looking to go into taming), a financial incentive to increase their population.

Of course all of this depends on the quality of the lion meat, which we’re less likely to know about with the restaurant’s decision not to serve the tacos. It is, however, an opportunity to note that so much of what passes for environmentalism these days is more about emotional reactions than thoughtful solutions. Increasing the market for lion meat would, in all likelihood, increase the population of the species. Keeping them a luxury, to be enjoyed only by those wealthy enough to afford a safari, continues to create costs for protecting them borne by countries that aren’t exactly stable or wealthy, is a strategy that is more tenuous in the long run.

In this case, however, the visceral reaction (known by culinary experts as the “ewwww…gross” reflex), won the day. It is a reaction that I must admit, I share. It is the same reaction some in India have when we eat cattle.

Imagine, though, what would happen if lion meat did take off as a delicacy. They could change Burger King to Lion King.

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