I read a minute ago that the French eat 50 million snails a year.
Wait. Let me clarify. I read just now in a book written in 1937 that the French ate 50 million snails a year in 1937. The book is Serve It Forth, the first work by the grande dame of food writing, M.F.K. Fisher.
My natural inclination was to look up how many snails the French eat today, compare populations of 85 years ago and now, and see if general consumption has increased or decreased. I did that, and here is what I discovered:
The population of France in 1937 was 40 million; today it’s 65 million.
For snail consumption to have kept pace with population growth—we’ll take Ms. Fisher at her word about snail consumption in 1937—there would now have to be 81 million of the little gastropods swallowed in a year within l’Hexagone. (Do not quibble with me, dear reader, about the fact that there is more to France than the big six-sided bit on mainland Europe.)
(I’ll step away now to research the matter.)
(I’m back, and you’d better be sitting down.)
Multiple sources concur on the figure I’m about to share. If they hadn’t, I’d treat it with extreme skepticism.
It seems that upwards of 420 million snails are consumed each year in France, or between six and seven of them per person per year. That means that per capita consumption has increased fivefold since M.F.K. Fisher discussed the matter way back when.
I learned that the vast majority of the snails eaten in France come from Eastern Europe, and that two-thirds of them are eaten around Christmas.
I’ve had food poisoning twice in my life. The first time was after eating seafood crêpes at a French bistro in Washington DC. The crêpes had mussels and shrimp in a cream sauce. The only good thing about the experience was that I was staying at the time, for work, in a very luxurious room in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. The surroundings made the food-poisoning woes—and they were considerable—somewhat more comfortable.
The second time I had food poisoning was a few years later, in Paris. We ate dinner at a place we’d been to before called Ma Bourgogne. It’s a wonderful little restaurant on the Place des Vosges that specializes, as the name suggests, in the cuisine of Burgundy.
On the night in question, I made a meal of two appetizers. There was smoked salmon, followed by escargots. The snails were, as is usually but not always the case but definitely is the case in Burgundy, drenched in butter, garlic and parsley.
Neither of those items seems a likely candidate for food poisoning, but it was, as they say, what it was. Whatever, I don’t hold a grudge against Ma Bourgogne, or against snails. Anyway, food poisoning, excruciating as it was, was somehow better to experience in Paris.
PS: This is the Giant African snail, which is apparently waging war within Florida’s agricultural sector. I don’t think I’d enjoy eating one, even with a lot of butter, garlic and parsley.