The Re-Squirreling of the American Diet

 

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The squirrel story fell out of the sky and landed on my plate.

It was an article from Grist, an online publication that “draws out the real meaning behind green stories.”

Grist’s headlines always draw me in. Newly Discovered Fungus Eats Plastic. Watch a Rabbit Herd Sheep. Ask Umbra: Where Do Chemical Sucking Plants Go To Die? The articles don’t always dish up copy as interesting as what the headlines imply but today, Al Rodente: Could Squirrel Meat Come Back in Vogue?delivered.

Call me naive, but I had no idea that people eat squirrel meat. At dinner. Instead of chicken. Or cow. Or fish. In parts of England, it’s become fashionable and in parts of the American South, it’s a regional delicacy. According to a man called Shaw, “Until recent decades, Americans ate squirrel meat because it was cheap, plentiful, and there.” The first edition of The Joy of Cooking, published in 1931, had many squirrel-based recipes. Really? Wow.

If I’d only known, I wouldn’t have had to waste so much time banging against the window pane to scare away the squirrels that forage on the seeds in our bird feeders. I could have just pulled out my Kentucky Long Rifle, with its long barrel and small caliber and shot at the tree branch below the squirrel and killed it by the concussion of the bullet instead of the bullet itself. Learned all that in the first two paragraphs of the article. A somewhat humane way of getting rid of the little buggers. A way to save the food for the birds and–oh my goodness I can’t believe I’m even thinking about this–feed my family at budget prices.

I know many vegetarians, a few vegans, and a lot of people cutting back on their meat intake. I’ve never been a huge meat fan myself, but my reasoning has more to do with taste and nutrition than with animal cruelty. Don’t misunderstand. I love animals but like many of you out there, I grew up in a world where we rarely if never thought about the fact that eating meat is the same as eating a cow or a fish or a chicken. We bought our meat at the grocery store or the meat market, after it had been killed and cleaned and packaged. Not having considered the animal’s life, I ate what was served unless I didn’t like the way it tasted or the texture of it in my mouth. The nutrition thing came a little later (although earlier than most for me since my father was the original health nut and we stopped eating red meat, except on special occasions, when I was still in primary school). So, in all fairness, when it comes to squirrel-eating, I can’t use the excuse that I won’t eat an animal because that would be cruel.

According to Shaw and several others, squirrel meat is more flavorful than rabbit, “gamey in a good way.” Has to do with the nuts they eat. Rabbits, as we all know, feed on grass.

So would I ever eat a squirrel?

I am a bit of an idealist so I suppose the eating local thing could be a convincing factor. And I take risks with food, am willing to try most things once, especially if prepared by one of my fabulous cook friends. But there’s the whole Creutzfeldt-Jakob thing. The human form of mad-cow disease. Several cases in Kentucky in the mid-90s were traced back to the eating of squirrel brain. So that part of the body is out for me. I’d like to live a long and healthy life.

My big beef (ha ha ha) with the eating of squirrel is that squirrels are closely related to rats and I’ve seen rats up close and while I’m not known to shriek at the sight of a mouse or a spider in my home, I honestly feel like barfing at the thought of a rat rummaging around my kitchen when I’m asleep. The rat they found in the basement of my house my senior year of college after we found big drill holes in all of the apples we’d brought home from a local farm may have influenced my thoughts on such creatures, but knowing that doesn’t change the sick feeling I get when I think about eating a rodent.

This is the one time in my life that I am glad that my daughter is allergic to nuts. If I cooked a squirrel who ate nuts for sustenance, I may be putting my child at risk. So my decision is made. Protect my child. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Call me a wimp if you like. But tell me, would you ever eat a squirrel? Have you ever eaten one? What are your reasons one way or the other?

Sara

Sara

I write about daily life, arts & culture, food, books, nature, animals, parenting, relationships, self-discovery, & more.

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14 thoughts on “The Re-Squirreling of the American Diet

  1. I could not eat a squirrel. I would if I needed it to survive, but other than that, it gives me the willies just thinking about it. I can’t eat veal for the same reason – a baby cow!! I am not against eating meat and I do so myself in small quantities. Something about the small, cute little creatures that ruins it for me. Not to mention the sicknesses and diseases that so often go along with them. I will stick to my nicer cuts of beef, chicken, and occasional white fish thank you!

    1. I forgot about veal. Never could eat that either. I’m not sure I’m going to get a commenter who actually will eat squirrel, but I hope I do.

  2. Nope. Not me. I have friends who hunt and I don’t mind that a bit. Just don’t bring it to me. I’ll get mine at the store. Yes, I’m squeamish. 🙂

    1. I can eat grouse or pheasant when brought home from a hunt but the squirrel thing is different to me. Can’t explain exactly but yuck.

  3. Hmmm, Normally I would say no, won’t eat Squirrel, but then I thought of Survivors show and how when they get really hungry, they cook the heck out of those rats and eat them with a smile, well, most anyway. So, I would have to say, if I was starving, I would. But that would mean there was nothing else around first.

    1. Well, you are the most daring of my responders. I think I could eat squirrel if truly starving but I’m still not sure about a rat. Thanks for your comment.

  4. It would have to be at a really exotic restaurant for me to even see it on a menu I think. But seriously, it was a very peculiar feeling the first time I ate kangaroo, and I haven’t yet managed crocodile or emu. The kangaroo is quite OK if you like game meats and next to no fat on it. It is becoming commercially available now that people are seeing beyond the national icon (couldn’t eat a koala though).

    1. You are awesome. Australians, in my experience, tend to be more willing to take risks than Americans. Kangaroo, huh? I suppose if it were between squirrel and kangaroo, I’d go with kangaroo. But I am sure I would feel peculiar eating it. For some reason, it would be easier for me to eat it in a restaurant than to prepare it at home. Thanks for your comment, Margaret.

So what do you think?