Is squirrel the new sustainable meat?
In England, an overrun of gray squirrels plus a bad economy prompts folks to eat them for dinner
The new sustainable meat?
Is killing squirrels for their meat an act of “wildlife massacre,” as one animal-welfare group was quoted by BBC News recently as saying, or a smart, eco-savvy way to deal with rising food costs in a bad economy?
In England—where citizens have complained for some time of being overrun by American gray squirrels (which outnumber and threaten the existence of the country’s native red squirrels)—you can buy squirrel meat, the same way you can buy a chicken, a turkey or a pound of ground beef. Budgens supermarket in north London added squirrel to its meat-department offerings back in February 2010.
The store’s owner, Andrew Thornton, defended his move to sell squirrel as a sensible, sustainable practice.
“There are too many squirrels around; we might as well eat them rather than cull them and dispose of them,” Thornton said of the squirrels in a July 2010 interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Thornton said he sells about 15 squirrels per week.
“I think it’s lovely,” said Thornton. “It’s a bit like rabbit. I think there will be a lot of fuss about this now, but in a few years it will become accepted practice that we eat squirrels. People don’t bat an eyelid now about eating rabbit.
“We got into it because we had requests from customers,” he explained, before adding that squirrel meat is more sustainable than beef, because it takes about 15 tons of grain to produce a ton of beef.
“The notion of stewed squirrel may not tempt everybody’s taste buds, but in an age of tightening belts and financial severity, the humble abundance of the squirrel is causing some to reconsider its epicurean virtue,” acknowledged BBC News’ Katie Connolly in a November 2010 article titled “Is squirrel the new austerity dish?”
For her story, Connolly interviewed American hunter William Hovey Smith, who lives in the state of Georgia and eats squirrel regularly, particularly in squirrel stew, which is fairly popular in the South.
Smith said that squirrel “is certainly a very American dish,” and that the eating of squirrel is an American tradition—early settlers ate squirrel back in the 1700s, he pointed out.
It’s not hard to find recipes for squirrel dishes in this country. Ifood.tv offers a number of recipes for squirrel stew. Illinois-based website BackwoodsBound.com offers a sizeable selection of recipes for everything from bacon-wrapped squirrel to squirrel pizza to fried squirrel with mushroom gravy. Log onto www.woodybobs.com to order the WoodyBobs Classic Squirrel Recipes cookbook.
My fiancé, a former longtime Adirondacks wilderness guide, told me he ate squirrel “probably about 15 or 20 times” when he was a teenager in upstate New York, when he first learned how to hunt. He cooked them “just in butter,” he said, or added a little garlic sometimes. “I wasn’t very good at cooking the fancy things, you know what I mean?”
Squirrel, he said, tastes like chicken. “I mean, everyone says everything tastes like chicken, but it kinda does.
“There’s not a whole heck of a lot of meat on a gray squirrel,” he added, “so you have to get a couple of them.”