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Snails race for their lives in French village

posted 16 Aug 2011, 05:58 by Mpelembe   [ updated 16 Aug 2011, 06:01 ]
The World Snail Racing Championships take place in France, with those snails who don't make it to the winners podium ending up in the cooking pot.

 LAGARDERE, FRANCE. REUTERS -  Snails donned their racing stripes over the weekend for the 43rd World Snail Racing Championships in the small village of Lagardere - in France, of course.

Of all the strange festivals held in villages each summer, snail racing has to be one of the most unusual. And also very French - those snails who don't make it to the winners podium end up in the cooking pot.

Nearly a hundred adults and children came along on Sunday (August 14) to watch the gastropod sprinters slime up the track as they raced for their lives in the annual festival.

Many competitors brought along snails they found in their gardens, while others were able to borrow snails for the competition after having paid an entry fee.

"It's great. It's a lot of fun. It's all about nature and it's something different from what we usually see. It's a little bit like horse racing with a bit of passion, and there you go," said one of the festival's participants.

The rules to the invertebrate derby are relatively simple: snails with a number on their shell or painted in distinct colours are placed inside a red circle on the middle of a table and win by reaching the edge. The top 15 then go into a playoff culminating in the grand final.

But for the trail-glazing snails, the event is actually a way to escape the inevitable fate of landing in a Frenchman's plate, basted in a traditional recipe which includes includes vinegar, ham and cooked tomatoes. The few snails which trudge it out to the final are given a pardon by the mayor so they can compete the following year.

"We used to have a tradition of making 'escargolades' and eating the snails. One day we had an idea of having them race - it was just a silly idea and there was nothing more to it than that - it was not premeditated," the mayor of Lagardere, Patrick Dubos said.

As nearly 170 kilos worth of snails are cooked in preparation for the annual feast, the pardoned winners will not mean the villagers go hungry.

The event has now been going on for more than 40 years and has put the village with a population of 70 on the international stage.

"It's amazing. We want to adopt it in England. We are going to have snail races in England. We are going to export this," said one English participant.

Whether snail racing will prove as popular outside France is less sure - cooking them never really took off elsewhere either, so any exportation of the sport will definitely take place at a snail's pace.