My piece on the Australian relationship with eating kangaroo meat seems to have stirred up a lot of interest and emotion! It was one of the most read and shared articles on the BBC news website throughout the day it was published, and I received a fair number of tweets, emails and comments about it, roughly divided between people who agreed with what I said and those who didn’t.
On Twitter, @RestaurantsRant said: ‘I think Australians, in general, are pretty unadventurous’. According to @QuarryHillWines, ‘That was a good piece. It’s a fine meat to cook with. Takes to cumin, coriander seed, star anise, ras el hanout… versatile’. @Bruce_Palling asked if it was ‘frying the flag’, while @Cam_Mck suggested my article was an example of ‘how to: 1. Ignore the richness of our food culture. 2. Write about our ignorance. 3. ??? 4. Profit’ (I have to say, given the fees paid by the BBC, I had to laugh at his suggestion that I was profiting by writing the piece!)
Anyway, the issue is clearly quite complicated, and here’s some further food for thought: according to the abovementioned @Cam_Mck, you can read the ‘real facts’ about kangaroo meat here.
And Dr Gerard Bodeker, of the Division of Medical Sciences at University of Oxford (and also Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology and Columbia University, New York) sent me a very interesting email which I reproduce here with his permission:
“In response to Fuchsia Dunlop’s online BBC News Magazine article ‘Eating Skippy: Why Australia has a problem with kangaroo meat’, it would be important to add that there are many real health concerns about eating kangaroo meat that lend support to the cultural aversion aversion to ‘eating Skippy’.
“A BBC report in April 2013 cited a study in Nature on the dangers of L-carnitin in red meat. The study found that when L-carnitin is metabolised by gut bacteria, it turns into a compound which damages arteries supplying blood to the heart and to the brain: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23086541
“It turns out that kangaroo meat has more L-carnitin per gram than any other red meat. In view of this, there is now a re-think in Australia about favouring kangaroo meat as a ‘healthy’ red meat.
“There are other health reasons as well for a re-think on kangaroo meat.
“Two serious infectious diseases are known to be transmitted via kangaroo meat. Toxoplasmosis and the bacterial disease, Salmonellosis are directly related to the handling, processing and consumption of kangaroo meat. Chefs recommending rare & raw treatments of kangaroo meat run the risk of exposing the public to acute health conditions.
“Indeed, Russia, cited in your article as a major market for kangaroo meat, banned kangaroo meat exports from Australia in 2009 after finding high levels of bacterial contamination.
“Supporting the national aversion to ‘eating Skippy’, there are also animal welfare issues in the kangaroo meat industry, including reportedly inhumane killing methods and cruel killing of baby kangaroos:
“While ‘Eating Skippy’ may be a cultural reflex that prevents many Australians from eating their national animal – against the advice of some nutritionists – that sentiment may be protecting them from very real dangers of a so-called ‘healthy red meat’ and the ethics of its supply chain.”
As I replied to him, I was under the impression that the Russian export ban was a response to a campaign by animal rights activists on cruelty grounds (and was revoked when the kangaroo meat industry agreed to slaughter only males); I hadn’t heard of these health considerations.
And I’d also be interested to know about the scale of difference in the relative health risks of kangaroo and other red meats, and whether the infections he mentions are peculiar to kangaroo, or found in other wild game (it’s worth remembering the salmonella risk of eating chicken, and the risks of eating uncooked pork).