Eating your national emblem

You can read my piece about the Australian hang-up about eating kangaroo meat here, on the BBC website. And if you like, listen to a different version on From Our Own Correspondent here – it’s the last recording, towards the end of the programme.

Of course, Australian’s reluctance to eat their most distinctive local meat is not particularly surprising, given the deep irrationality of human food choices. Most people in the West, for example, will eat shrimps but not insects, pork but not dog, and beef but not horse meat. History is littered with examples of societies that suffered because they wouldn’t change their eating habits, like the mediaeval Norse community on Greenland, who starved to death because they refused to eat fish and seal like the natives, but insisted on maintaining a tradition of cattle farming that was unsuited to their fragile northern habitat.

Kangaroo meat shop in Adelaide

The interesting question is how much people will be prepared to change their eating habits to accommodate climate change and rising global population. If the UN has its way, we’ll soon by eating insects...

Above, on the right, by the way, you can see my own cooking experiments: Sichuanese kangaroo tail soup; stir-fried wallaby with yellow chives; wallaby with cumin; and mapo tofu with minced wallaby.

6 Responses to “Eating your national emblem”

  1. Isaac

    I’m also at a loss as to where you looked to find the “reluctance” of Australians to eat kangaroo. It’s in most, if not all, major supermarkets and many restaurants.

    And is delicious.

  2. Daniel

    Yes, completely made up story. Most Australians just plain don’t like Kangaroo. I’ve had it a few times and just wasn’t fussed with it.

    Absolutely nothing to do with it being a national emblem at all. People just generally don’t prefer the meat to beef, lamb, pork or chicken.

  3. john

    um, i kinda agree with the previous comments. most Australians just don’t like kangaroo. i must say i’m not crazy about it. wallaby, on the other hand, is absolutely delicious. bear in mind there are many species of both. i’m no expert.

    the other issue is farming. you’d think Australia should be farming kangaroos instead of cattle and sheep but they’re not too suitable for domestication. for a start, they they jump very high, so fencing is problematic. i’ve also been told by someone with excellent environmental credentials that they’re nowhere near as efficient at converting feed into meat.

    not a simple case of squeamishness

  4. Cameron

    As other commenters have already pointed out, this post is based almost entirely on fiction. Both major supermarket chains carry a selection of kangaroo meats and sausages (“kanga-bangas”) in their stores. My local pub when I lived in melbourne had a kangaroo dish on the menu. One issue is that it is tricky to cook because it is so lean, and it also has a fairly gamey flavor, which many people don’t like. I happen to love it, but I love meat cooked rare and I like game meats. Cooked well, the cuts I have seen are very tough. It is also hard to find a cut that braises well – I’m not sure that there is one (someone please correct me if I am wrong on this).

    The fair comparison is venison: a lean meat with a stronger flavor and a historical lack of consumption. And, to be sure, a little bit of cute factor to overcome! If one were to compare venison availability and preferences for venison in Europe with kangaroo in Australia, one would find Australians eat a lot of kangaroo indeed. In fact, kangaroo meat has rapidly been adopted across Australia as its benefits have been noted and knowledge about how to cook it has disseminated.

    On top of this, relatively little is known about how to farm kangaroo. Think at the level of the business owner. If one were to farm them at scale, one would be choosing not to draw on thousands of years of accumulated knowledge about how to farm beef, chicken, pork, etc. A risky commercial move.

  5. Jen King

    Yes, I’m with the others on this. There is kangaroo meat in all the supermarkets. Perhaps people don’t eat it a lot because it is quite tricky to cook or because we’re not quite sure HOW to cook it but I don’t think it has anything to do with it being the national emblem or our love of “Skippy”. I didn’t know you could buy wallaby and wouldn’t mind trying that! Speaking of national emblems, emu salami is scrumptious, if you can find it. This has been an interesting topic! Thanks everyone for enlightening me!

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