Workers Adapt to a Snail's Pace

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Life has never been easy in the poor Western Cape township of Vyeboom, South Africa. Yet many illiterate, rural people migrated there from Eastern Cape Province seeking work picking fruit. Instead, they have found a promised land, of sorts, picking snails.

Farmers in the area are inundated with the slithering, drooling snails, which they consider to be pests. Removing them from their orchards and fields is a huge, but essential task. The Los Angeles Times reports that these little fellows are merely common brown garden snails, which become a tasty treat when served in bubbling garlic butter—not to be confused with the prized Burgundy snails known as escargots in France. Despite their yeoman status, the brown variety is still a prized morsel for many European diners.

Workers who earned less than $30 a month in Eastern Cape now make four times that much by collecting the snails for Eleanze In-dustries, a small local company that sorts, cleans, bags, and chills the snails for export to Europe. The firm also is attempting to introduce them to local people as a high calcium, low-fat (no garlic butter) food source. While most of the pickers shudder with revulsion at the thought of eating the slimy creatures, a few have braved the dining experience and report the snails are quite palatable.

Farmers are delighted to be rid of this traditional pest, and workers are benefiting from higher salaries and possibly more food. Meanwhile, a new industry is providing more jobs to local workers and expanding its business. Except for the snails, it appears to be a win-win situation for all concerned.

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Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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