Two fruitless days later, after I part ways with Landers and head to the airport, I get a call from one Ray Nehlig in St. Bernard Parish. His wife had seen my Hail Mary post. I decide to gun it to Ray's to see the hypothesis of Landers' book proved.
Arriving at a street of single-level and mobile homes, I see a white-haired, round-headed man of about 50 holding three cat-size rodents by the tail in his left hand, a vintage .22 in his right.
"Are you Ray?" I shout.
"Yup," he says without looking up.
A younger man lies on his belly in a ditch, shining a flashlight into a burrow.
"Dees is jus baby ones," says Nehlig. "Dere's a big mama in dere. We gon' git 'er."
He lays the nutria down. The animal's long-fingered, leathery forepaws look shockingly human in stark contrast with its webbed hind feet. Its fur is as coarse as the hair on a coconut, its tail almost lizardlike, and its four long, bloodied, orange incisors look like something from a nightmare.
"OK," says Nehlig. "Less clean 'em up."
The quartered nutria go into a pressure cooker, along with water, potatoes, and seasonings. The meat is tasty, but on these three juveniles, there are more bones and guts than flesh. Still, as the ethical-meat movement gains momentum, it does make for a meal I can feel good about.
Landers, for his part, also finally made a kill that day. Three Cajun gentlemen took him hunting on their airboats, from which he cleanly dispatched two adult specimens with his .22. Then local chef Philippe Parola showed him how to dress and cook the animals. (In the late 1990s, Parola led a campaign to market nutria as a lean, healthy protein source, but public perception of the creature as nothing more than an overgrown rat killed the initiative in its tracks. He's since moved on to Asian carp, trying to rebrand it as "silverfin." His motto: "Can't beat 'em, eat 'em!")
According to Landers, Parola butchered the nutria to produce a saddle of meat, soaked it in Italian dressing, and baked it for a while. Then he shredded the meat and browned it in a pan with Cajun seasonings. Landers maintains that of the ark of invasive animals he sampled during the writing of 'Eating Aliens,' nutria best approximated the taste and texture of chicken – Americans' meat flavor benchmark.