Eating Skippy: the case for kangaroo meat
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.