Discover What’s For Dinner

Kage Baker was keenly, personally interested in the processes of extinction and survival. She loved the mysteries of cryptids, animals lauded in song and story who one day turned out to be real; or even better, the really odd ones like platypussies, whom no one had imagined until they were found.

She was fascinated by the rise and fall of various species of animals; the interesting tricks animals would develop to take or hold a niche. The isolation of a mild difference into an identifying trait. The patient plodders who last for 100 million years and the comets who streak across the biosphere in blazing eccentricity.

She was rather betting on Homo sapiens being in the comet category.

The more she studied, though, the more she thought she had identified the trick that let humans conquer all lands and all living conditions. Human will eat anything. And anyone. They are ultimate, surreal, intelligent omnivores.They make art and culture out of devouring anything that moves. Or doesn’t, for that matter; we are among the very few animals who have developed agriculture, and we’ve taken it further than the ants.

Oh, sharks have a similar eat-anything reputation, based on the fact that we occasionally find Volvo parts and lawyers in their sharky insides. But really, sharks are not very bright – they are just clever enough to realize that something near blood or thrashing is likelier than not to be edible, and so they swallow some peculiar things. And except for the odd South American seal, they stick to things in the water.

But humans have eaten their way across the face of the earth, and the face of the deep.

One of the theories about the lack of megafauna in the modern world is that the entry of humans into the various continents did for them. The giant mammals all seem to have perished soon after humans made a successful stand in the countryside. Europe lost its bison, its aurochs, its giant pigs, its Irish elk. The holocaust is even more evident in the Americas and Australia, where human arrived relatively late – just before they got there, the places were teeming with ginormous beasties living wild, free and plentiful.

Within a paltry few thousand years, the megafauna of the Americas was reduced to buffalo and a few isolated, large cats. Australia squeaked by with red kangeroos, and maybe a giant lizard no one is sure still exists. New Zealand lost all its big birds, and is now reduced to fat flightless parrots and kiwis: both nocturnal burrow-dwellers, where humans cannot reach them.

While there is considerable argument about what actually did all of them in, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence – fire pits. Burned bones. Spear points stuck in ancient animal skeletons. Pictures on cave walls of anything and everything being driven, hunted and speared. Nor is Homo sapiens alone in this martial omnivory: Homo Neanderthalensis is suspected in a lot of mass bone pits at the bottoms of cliffs.

There’s good eating on them protoprobiscoids.

And on our cousins, too; Neanderthalensis or sapiens sapiens, Homo has been munching on its kith and kin for just as long.

There’s a new report out of Southeast Asia this week, that would have interested Kage – Vietnam is the newest hotspot for previously-undiscovered species. Take a look here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8950098/Elvis-monkey-and-coloured-gecko-among-200-new-species-discovered-in-Vietnam.html

What this means, of course, is that the locals have known about them for ages, but suddenly scientists are finding them too. Mostly by cruising restaurants and farmers’ markets. Read the whole article – it states, quite baldly, that most of these fascinating creatures are destined for the dinner table. A new species is found in Vietnam about once every 4 days, on average – but only once, and often never again. Why? Because someone ate it.

Sometimes the locals have been eating them for years, and rather understandably are not eager to have them declared off-limits by scientists. But unless these animals are protected, at least a little, they will soon not be found even by afficianados of rainbow gecko on toast – no, not though your grandfathers back to the days of Pithecanthropus (whom we probably also ate) regarded it as being everyman’s right and proper food  …

There is something so tacky about realizing we ate so many of our fellow passengers on this planet. There are 7 billion of us here now – couldn’t we have kept a few moas, and mammoths, and sabre-toothed squirrels? Wouldn’t the world be a more interesting place if there were maybe a billion fewer of us, and some thylacines and dodos left? I’d have liked to see the skies over Kansas darkened with passenger pigeons rather than dust storms.

Makes Mendoza’s super-grain project seem a little more vital, doesn’t it? Before there’s just us and the bacteria left, snacking on one another.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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12 Responses to Discover What’s For Dinner

  1. Things I have read and Dr. Jacobs has told me of the ruinous passage of the pigeons makes dust storms benign. Very much like biblical locusts but tastier on the whole. Much like an avian tsunami. And, there is talk of resurrecting Mammoths, although there is some debate about the sensibility. I’m not very fond of squirrels of any kind, saber toothed is a magnification of evil as far as I can see. Bad cess to them.

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    • Kate says:

      Well, the passage of the superflocks of pigeons wasn’t ruinous until people built cities in the way. I would have liked to see a better compromise between the wild and urban worlds, is all. As for squirrels – no one *really* likes them, do they? Despite the fact that they are tasty, tidy little packets of fur and protein. Although the American grey squirrels do carry spongiform encephalitis, which is a very bad deal.

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      • Neassa says:

        Grey squirrels (at least ours here) consider Camperdown Elm bark to be a rare and wondrous delicacy (squirrel candy, as it were.) And it’s getting rarer at a rapid rate, as they are killing one of the few plants we have left that Mr Burbank planted himself.

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  2. Margaret says:

    I hope you and Kage saw that PBS program on Mammoths several years ago. They revealed that there had been survivors on Wrangel Island into fairly recent times, considerably reduced in size by environmental pressures. I was whining ‘I waaant one.’ – even though grooming and cleanup for a pony-sized mammoth would probably be way more tiresome than the equivalent for a houseful of Persian cats. “Hold still, Sir Leonard, I need to comb out your dreads…”

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    • Kate says:

      Yep, both Kage’s and Kimberly’s first reaction to the Wrangel Island mammoths was “Oh, we almost had mammoths! I want some!” I think Kage just liked the idea of their being alive, but I am fairly sure Kimberly actually wants to possess one. Of course, she’s been trying to talk her husband into letting her keep a couple of small Highland cows in the back yard for years. They are not much bigger than a Great Dane, and the Corgi could herd them. And we’d get fresh milk.

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  3. Medrith says:

    You just want a real reason to sing the coo song, don’t you?

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  4. For some reason I just stumbled over this tonight for the first time. You do know there were pygmy mammoths on Catalina, right? I kept expecting Mendoza to encounter at least one at some point!

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  5. Kate says:

    Maggie – yes, I knew about the Channel Islands mammoths! But Kage sent Mendoza too far back for mammoths, I think. She sent her an icthyosaur, though.

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  6. Kate says:

    Neassa – you need a hose with a high-powered nozzle, and someone willing to spend some time dispensing aversion training. To squirrels.

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