Feral cats are the latest introduced species to be the target of a government cull, but calls to control the populations of rabbits, cane toads, and others have come before, to varying levels of success. The Feed travelled around the country to meet some people with an unorthodox method of pest control; eating them.
Vince Garreffa of Mondo Meats in Perth, is known locally as the Flesh Prince, or butcher or the stars. He made his providing more alternative meats to his customers.
“One of my favourite customers was an Asian fella who was having Chinese New Year, and needed a snake, so I went out hunting until I found one for him,” Garreffa said.
He believes that Australians are ready to move beyond the staple meats of beef, lamb, pork and chicken.
“Australians are far more adventurous,” he said. “You name it and they want to taste it.”
He is an advocate of kangaroo meat, as it lives free-range rather than spending its life in a shed waiting for slaughter. Historically disregarded by Australia’s English colonisers, until recently it was only used as pet meat.
“It is without a doubt the best free-range meat on this planet,” he said. “It’s shot from a distance, so it doesn’t know what is about to happen to it. My belief is that it’s the most ethical meat on this earth. The supply far outweighs the usage.”
Dr Paul Burke, a marketing expert from the University Of Technology in Sydney, attributes the slow growth of the kangaroo meat industry to ‘the cringe factor’.
“One of the biggest challenges for the kangaroo meat industry was, ‘we’re eating Skippy,’” he said. “We’re eating our national emblem. That didn’t sit well with a lot of people.”
“At the end of the day it’s another meat product. And some people are very comfortable with not worrying about the type of animal they are eating, and are quite happy to do with the taste, go with the adventure and experience new tastes.”
Horse is another meat which is rarely sold for human consumption here in Australia, despite large populations of wild brumbies living in the outback. Australian horse meat has been exported for 45 years with government approval.
In 2010 Minister *** gave permission for a limited amount of product to be made available to the public. Garreffa was inundated with requests.
“I was getting about 4,000 emails a week, of which maybe 500 were death threats,” he laughs.
He now sells the meat under the name cavallo, which he says is less confronting. He notes its high iron content and ‘sweet aftertaste’ as a reason to embrace its health properties.
“Australians have a love affair with the horse. We still associate with them because of horses being our friends,” he said. “And I think it’s quite hideous that they will allow them to be shot from a helicopter and leave them lying on the ground, not to be used as a resource.”
“They’re a food source! Why should it go to waste?”
Professor Phillip Hayward from the University Of Technology calls this movement ‘eco-culinary activism’; the use of invasive animals as a food stuff to address ecological problems.
“Invasives can be turned around into an asset,” said Hayward.
There has been so species so publically derided in Australia as a pest than the cane toad, who have steadily creeped southwards from their initial introduction area of far north Queensland.
Emma Lupin works in conservation and land management in Darwin, and has been catching and cooking cane toads in line with her interest in local food.
“A lot of people eat meat, and they don’t really question where it comes from,” she said. “I think eating a feral animal that you’ve got yourself, seen how it’s killed and prepared yourself is much less strange.”
In order to avoid the cane toads’ poisonous glands on their head and back, Lupin restricts herself to cooking and eating the legs. She says she has never been sick from eating them, nor knows anyone else who has.
“Maybe there should be a disclaimer,” she said. “If you try it at home, it’s your fault.”
Hayward admits that the industry is not ready for commercially sold cane toad meat.
“More research is still needed on this,” he said. “We know that if you kill a cane toad quickly and you take the skin off you reduce the amount of toxins that could possibly get into it. But there’s still some evidence there’s residual places at particular times.”
However, he cites the growing market for frog and toad meat in Indonesia as a reason that the research should continue, saying that it could be a very valuable export market for Australia.
Kaye Kessing from Alice Springs has another feral animal in her sights; the cat. The government has recently launched a ‘war on cats’ to help control the feral cat population in Australia, one which contributes to the extinction pressures on native birds and mammals. It is estimated that one cat can eat up to thirty native animals per night.
“It’s a killer by instinct,” said Kessing.
To make a point about the problem feral cats are causing, Ketting baked a ‘catterole’ and entered it in a bush foods competition, inspired by the local indigenous groups who she says have been hunting and eating cat for a long time.
“When I cooked the catterole a lot of flak arose,” she admits. “People just have to get over their emotion. Have a look at a tiny little lamb. They’re the cutest things. And we eat it, and we don’t think twice about it.”