A Brief Introduction to Eating Roadkill
Chilli con carrion anyone? No? How about buzzard en croute? Rat curry? Okay, such dishes might insult the delicate sensibilities of sophisticated urban dwellers, but thousands of people around the world chow down on animals and birds that have had a losing argument with a vehicle.
If You Kill It, You Grill It
You’ve turned a bend in the road and a hapless possum passes under your wheels. What to do? What to do? A gentleman in Kentucky who bills himself as the Hillbilly Crackpot is the go-to guy on this file.
The one you've run over is nice and fresh but if you've found the leavings of another vehicle, “make sure the critter ain’t too ripe.” The Hillbilly Crackpot offers no advice on judging the ripeness of the animal, but, presumably, it involves some sort of sniff test.
The Hillbilly Crackpot doesn’t hold with the roadkill approach to filling the pot. Kentucky culture is under threat he laments; “How much longer will the joyous day when a man takes his son out to shoot his first possum be with us?”
Once you’ve got the beast home, you will have to skin and gut it. The Hillbilly Crackpot advises that if you are a squeamish city slicker then you’d best “just go to Wal-Mart or someplace and buy yourself some Possum Treat, that way all you have to do is open up a can and you’re eating possum.”
The recipe is uncomplicated. Cook the possum in a pot of water for an hour, throw in eight large potatoes, a “big spoon of sugar,” and some thyme and marjoram. An even simpler dish is possum, stick, fire.
This Might Just Be a Spoof
Roo on the Barbie
While most people outside Australia think kangaroos are kind of cute, many people who live in the country view them as menaces. There are more kangaroos (50 to 60 million) in Australia than people (23 million), so collisions with vehicles are frequent. The death toll among kangaroos is in the region of 20,000 a year. Occasionally, a human is killed, but it's usually because they have swerved to miss the kangaroo and have hit a tree instead.
The rule is that people are not allowed to eat dead native wildlife unless they have a permit. Permit shmermit! you’re in the outback a couple of hours from the nearest supermarket, and there’s a fresh, dead roo in the road. What are the chances a wildlife officer is going to happen by and ask to see your paperwork?
So, into the back of the ute (utility vehicle or pickup truck for non-Aussies) goes the animal. Most outback dwellers possess the necessary butchering skills and, before you know it, the roo is on the barbie.
Natascha Mirosch writes in The Guardian that, “Because of its earthy, slightly gamey flavour, kangaroo meat matches well with fruit sauces like plum, red currant, quandong (a uniquely Australian desert-growing fruit) or orange, as well as herbs such as garlic, rosemary, juniper and spices such as mountain pepper, paprika, black pepper.” The tail meat is said to be particularly succulent, but it needs to be braised—not barbecued.
West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off
Ground zero for flat meat is the town of Marlinton, West Virginia. Every fall, the master chefs of road pizza gather in this small Appalachian community to demonstrate their skills with squirrel, bear, deer, and whatever else shows up beside the highway.
It’s a competitive business with a set of rules including a ban on pre-cooking and the requirement that each dish served up must contain at least 25 percent wild game. The judges, of course, are of impeccable character and “have been tested for cast-iron stomachs and have sworn under oath to have no vegetarian tendencies.” These incorruptible taste-testers are also on the lookout for gravel and fragments of tarmac in the stews, soups, and ragouts.
One of the more charming aspects of the cook-off is that contestants are asked to be creative in naming their offering—the more disgustingly unappetizing, the better. In 2015, Bear Butt Savory Stew came in third. Previous entries have included Blood, Rocks and Guts over Snails, and Maggots and Squirrel Scrotum Stew.
Is Roadkill Safe to Eat?
Alison “Tribal” Brierley describes herself as a “Professional Artist, Shamanic Taxidermist, Urban & Wild Food Forager, Roadkill Recycler, & Life Skill Liberator.” She told the BBC “When you start getting into it, it’s not as dodgy as most people think.”
She points out that very few diseases carried by wildlife are transferable to humans. But there are a few caveats:
- Leave the internal organs alone because they, (the liver, in particular) have been filtering out stuff you may not want to consume.
- Brains and spinal tissue might be carrying pathogens similar to Mad Cow Disease.
- If the carcass is swollen the, best advice is to leave it be and let nature’s scavengers take care of it.
- The same rule applies if the beast is giving off a malodorous scent that catches you in the back of the throat.
There is an added hazard. It’s not a good idea to field dress a deer where it has met its end. An 18-wheeler might be heading your way, and you too might become roadkill. Drag the animal well off the highway or, better yet, stuff it in the trunk and do the butchering at home. Ms. Brierley adds that “Once you start talking about cleanliness of over-processed, drugged supermarket food as opposed to something that’s been hit by a car, people start to understand it.”
There are also legal issues. In many places, it’s illegal to be in possession of roadkill. In Alaska, roadkill is the property of the state and, if suitable, is collected and given to the poor. In Canada, it’s the property of the Crown, and licenses are needed to collect it. The legislators of Tennessee tried to pass a law making it illegal to take roadkill in 1999; the state-wide ridicule was so loud that the bill was withdrawn.
- According to Modern Farmer, roadkill “is the perfect meat for vegetarians and vegans, too, provided their objections to meat are its murder or its environmental implications and not because it’s icky-gross.”
- It is widely quoted that in 2012, the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company estimated that 1,232,000 deer were hit by cars in the United States.
- Aficionados of roadkill cuisine point out that it’s organic and free of artificial hormones and antibiotics.
- According to News.com.au, Australian wildlife scientist Len Zell says “‘nothing beats blackbird cooked in aluminium foil mixed with garlic, oil, and red wine . . . ‘After cooking it with the feathers, pull back the skin with feathers and all—it’s just beautiful.’ ”
- “How To Cook A Possum – Old Time Possum Recipe.” Hillbilly Crackpot, undated.
- “On Eating Roadkill, the Most Ethical Meat.” Brendan Buhler, Modern Farmer, September 12, 2013.
- “Scientist Len Zell Eats Roadkill and isn’t Afraid to Admit it.” News.com.au, August 22, 2013.
- “Bush Food: Kangaroo.” Natascha Mirosch, The Guardian, January 3, 2014.
- “Autumn Harvest Festival and West Virginia Roadkill Cook-off.”
- “Why you Should be Eating Roadkill.” David K Gibson, BBC, May 19, 2016.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor