Eat­ing Skippy: the case for kan­ga­roo meat

The Guardian - G2 - - Shortcuts - Peter Pa­p­athana­siou

Back when I was a kid, I used to race home from my Can­berra pri­mary school in time to catch my favourite TV show, Skippy the Bush Kan­ga­roo. Skippy was the Aus­tralian equiv­a­lent of Lassie: an an­i­mal hero who some­times even solved crimes. What’s that, Skip? There’s a bush­fire? A lit­tle boy has fallen down a ravine? Some bank rob­bers are try­ing to es­cape? Lead the way.

Fast for­ward 30 years and the lov­able, cud­dly mar­su­pi­als are mass­ing in plague pro­por­tions. New govern­ment data shows there are al­most 50m of them in Aus­tralia; com­pare this with the hu­man pop­u­la­tion of 24 mil­lion. Driven by over­pop­u­la­tion to star­va­tion, the roos have adapted to sur­vive. They com­pete with do­mes­tic live­stock for food and wa­ter, dam­age crops and de­stroy farm fences.

To tackle this grow­ing prob­lem, an­nual culls take place, a prac­tice that di­vides Aus­tralia. So you can imag­ine how con­tro­ver­sial the idea of eat­ing kan­ga­roo might be. And yet this is what ecol­o­gists are now propos­ing, while nu­tri­tion­ists point out that roo meat is a health­ier op­tion than other red meats: or­ganic, full of iron, free of pes­ti­cides and an­tibi­otics, and very lean, what with all that hop­ping.

The idea of eat­ing roo is noth­ing new. But it has never been com­pletely em­braced by Aus­tralians, who see it as – in­sult of all in­sults – un-aus­tralian.

The kan­ga­roo is hands-down Aus­tralia’s No 1 most recog­nis­able an­i­mal sym­bol. It features on the Aus­tralian coat of arms, on the A$1 coin (five roos), on the “Aus­tralian-made” logo and on the logo of the na­tional air­line, which is nick­named the Fly­ing Kan­ga­roo.

When it comes to sport, the roo is ubiq­ui­tous. The na­tional rugby league team is nick­named the Kan­ga­roos. The na­tional foot­ball team is the Soc­ceroos; the un­der-17 team, the Joeys; the fut­sal team, the Fut­sal­roos … and so on.

How could I pos­si­bly add Skippy to my din­ner plate? It would de­stroy my mem­o­ries of child­hood, the most pre­cious mem­o­ries of all.

Per­haps it took mov­ing to the UK be­fore I could take the plunge. At my nearby gas­tropub, the roo steak I or­dered – medium rare – was del­i­cate and juicy, and not in the slight­est bit gamey. Served with a wild-tomato chut­ney, it tasted a lot like beef and went down per­fectly with a glass of ro­bust Aus­tralian red.

Alas, the roos I grew up with are no longer the roos of to­day.

It’s not their fault there are so many of them. But if we don’t do some­thing about their bur­geon­ing num­bers, the na­tion stands to lose a lot of its bio­di­ver­sity.

So go on. Try some roo. It’s not un-aus­tralian. In fact, there’s noth­ing more Aus­tralian: it was the orig­i­nal bush tucker, a del­i­cacy of the in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

And be­sides, there’s too many of the glo­ri­ous bas­tards any­way.

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