I always welcome intelligent discussion regarding various aspects of my life, especially ones relating to Sustainable Living. So, when I was asked if I could be interviewed by Dr. Daniel Allen (a renowned lecturer, writer and editor) for his paper – Squirrel Meat and Roadkill: Geographies of Alternative Meat-Eating in the UK , I said yes!
Dan has an editorial role with Reaktion Books and he created the new “Earth” series. He identified and commissioned over 30 expert authors from across the world.
Dan is also a leading expert on the behaviour of Otters and has published many books and academic papers.
I look forward to reading “Squirrel Meat and Roadkill: Geographies of Alternative Meat-Eating in the UK” in its entirety…
Paper will be presented at the RGS-IBG 2012.
Session: ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive: Biogeographies of Non-Human Animals’
“Squirrel Meat and Roadkill: Geographies of Alternative Meat-Eating in the UK”
by Daniel Allen
The acceptance, or indeed rejection, of carnivorous cuisines is determined by the practices, representations and perceptions associated with the way in which food is produced and consumed. Today, the ethics of eating has become increasingly tied to an animal’s experience of life and mode of death. It is the perceived edibility of an embodied carcass which sanctions its role as meat. Yet, as Bell and Valentine (1997:45) recognize: ‘Transgressions of these cultural norms are considered revolting, sometimes inducing the body to vomit in disgust at what it has consumed.’ In the UK, the meat of grey squirrels and roadkill-as-food are two such transgressions.
When the Save Our Squirrels project started in the UK, their 2006 slogan ‘Eat a grey, save the red!’ was not to everyone’s taste. Suggestions that this invasive species provided an alternative sustainable meat product was met with criticism by animal rights groups and nature enthusiasts alike. Roadkill-as-food is consumed far less openly (Michael, 2004). However, there are individuals who consider it as ethical and organic meat, without the moral dilemma of intentional killing. Despite this, the majority of the public seem disgusted at the thought. This paper examines the unsavoury animal geographies of alternative meat in the UK. By considering the debates surrounding squirrel meat and roadkill, this paper explores the competing material, symbolic, cultural, moral and ethical meanings and values placed upon these embodied animals in the twenty-first century.
… to be continued, I look forward to it! Best wishes Dan.
These Questions and Answers were taken from the interview with Dr. Daniel Allen. I have recently created a blog called “Frequently Asked Questions” seeing as I tend to repeat myself a lot, lol. Obviously, Dan is the one asking the questions…
1. What was it that made roadkill initially appealing as a source of food?
I remember long ago my father preparing game in the kitchen, so I wasn’t fazed by seeing dead animals and was used to eating rabbits and pheasants from an early age. I was fascinated by the butchering process and tried to make things from the bit of fur, feet and feathers that were left over (my Dad found it amusing, but my Mum thought it was dirty, lol).
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed collecting bits of nature and turning them into something else. As a young adult and an artist who enjoys working with organic and animal materials, I would stop and inspect dead things at the side of the road (UK and abroad) to see if I could learn something about the animal and to see if I could salvage anything… often this is the closest you can get to truly wild animals. The encounters were always a mix of sadness and fascination. When an animal was only recently killed, I was curious about eating it, as it seemed a shame not to waste it, however, popular ‘roadkill’ taboo and worry about disease prevented me from doing so.
Eight years ago I saw the car driving in front of me hit a pheasant. It bounced to the side of the road. I stopped to pick it up. “Why couldn’t I eat this?”, I thought. It was exactly the same bird you would buy in a country butchers, but minus the lead shot! Butchers tend to ‘hang’ pheasants for about a week, so this was definitely fresher than those. It was perfectly intact so I took it home, and prepared and ate it. It was delicious and I derived a huge amount of pride and satisfaction from what I had done. I was living in the country, but still felt like a ‘townie, and this simple act made me feel more in tune with where I was living. I felt more akin with my environment. And it was a free meal! Bonus!
Five years ago I began to learn and practice taxidermy using roadkill. I was in contact with lots of dead animals and the same question kept popping up – why can’t I eat this? In most cases the meat was inedible, or my lack of knowledge about the animal and any diseases it may carry prevented me from eating it. Again, it seemed like such a waste! This was an organic, free-range, pesticide-free, growth hormone-free and cruelty-free piece of meat – this is better than what you would buy in a supermarket!! It was also something I hadn’t tried before and it had the element of the ‘exotic’. I have always had an adventurous culinary curiosity and tried all sorts of street food in far-flung places around the world.
So I educated myself and began eating roadkill on a regular basis.
2. What is your opinion of pre-packaged meat?
When I see a tray of pre-packaged meat I often wonder how the animal had been fed, looked after, respected and finally slaughtered. Did the animal suffer? What has been pumped into it? Is it full of antibiotics and growth hormones? What food had it been eating? Do I want this piece of meat in my body?
If I could afford it, I would only buy organic meat, always. Ideally I would prefer to eat only animals that I had reared, slaughtered and prepared myself, and this is my long term goal. Unfortunately, I still have to rely on shops and supermarkets, and occasionally I buy the odd piece of meat that isn’t organic, especially if it looks very good and has been reduced heavily in price – better to eat it than see it go into the landfill. It seems such a waste of a life.
I would not however buy ‘cheap’ anaemic looking pieces of flesh that have obviously been pumped full of water and synthetic additives to hide the fact that it was raised in battery conditions.
3. Have you ever found injured animals and had to dispatch them?
Occasionally I have had to do this with rabbits and pheasants at the side of the road, but luckily not very often. I do not like to see animals suffer. If I can not save its life, I will dispatch it and it always makes me weep. I find it hypocritical if I am not able to do this, when I am more than willing to eat meat. Your average carnivorous human would eat far less meat if they had to participate in the entire process from beginning to end, and that isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion, environmentally and ethically.
Just two days ago my partner found an injured owl. It had a broken wing. We called around and took it to a local vet. They couldn’t save its wing, so had to put it down. It was a huge shame and a beautiful bird. We really wanted to save it. We asked if we could have the bird for taxidermy reasons, but the vet said no. The bird went to be incinerated. What a waste! We questioned if what we had done was the right thing. We could have dispatched the bird ourselves had we known that the wing was unfixable and then we could have eaten it, and recycled the rest of it. In most States in the USA, it is illegal to take roadkill, and often, by the time it is collected by the authorities, the meat is unfit for human consumption – What sort of ridiculous laws do we have in the West that allows good meat to go to waste, when there are so many undernourished people in our own countries, let alone in poorer countries?
4. What have you eaten, and is there any meat you wouldn’t eat?
I have eaten all meat that has been put before me that is fit for human consumption (Japan and the Far East in general is a great place to try out new and exotic foods and if the locals eat it, then I will.) I will try most animals I have found dead if I am confident that it wouldn’t poison me. (My only close shave was eating a dead penguin in Patagonia). I travel extensively and to remote places – culinary experimentation is a passion of mine. I have eaten many kinds of insects. I like different textures and flavours. I would not kill-to-eat someone’s domestic pet, but have probably been served it without my knowledge in various countries and accepted it graciously. However, I would eat anything in a survival situation – including your grandma! Lol. I do not, and can not, eat Marmite though.
5. Can you describe a normal days foraging?
Most finds are opportunistic, especially when they are animal. I always have plastic bags, rubber gloves, a sharp knife or my ‘skinning kit’ in the back of the vehicle. The places where certain fish, crustaceans, molluscs, plants or fungi are to be found, are often recommended by a friend or similar enthusiast. More often than not, these are closely guarded secrets! On foraging trips such as these, I go deliberately and thoughtfully armed with what tools I need to collect and contain what I hope to find. If I were to plan a day’s hike that included opportunistic wild food foraging, I would first pick a scenic and interesting spot, armed with a plastic and paper bag (paper for fungi), a sharp knife, gloves, my mini pocket foraging books and a camera. If my partner is with me and carrying a big backpack we will take the tent equipment, cooking apparatus and sleep and dine al-fresco.
6. Why not buy meat from a supermarket, or raise your own livestock?
As I mentioned before….
Unfortunately, at this time I cannot avoid having to shop at the supermarket and local farm shops and butchers, so do buy the occasional and preferably organic item from there. I prefer not to encourage factory farming so I promote local farm shops and friends who grow their own to sell or barter.
Our long term goal, and one we are actively researching, is to purchase a large plot of land, probably not in this country. We plan to develop our own organic garden and vegetable patch and breed, raise, butcher and process our own livestock. We plan to produce our own self sustainable energy, and be totally ‘off-grid’. We hope to include like minded people and those who want to learn all about self sustainability and living simply with nature.
On a political note:
Apart from this country’s weather, we don’t want to settle in this country as Central and Local Government clearly do not want to encourage this lifestyle, as they would not be able to take their 30-50% fee (in taxes) on our efforts – to fund their greedy, environmentally unfriendly and dangerous schemes of imperialism and manipulation and exploitation of us wage slaves and poorer countries. (ooops, lol, bit of a rant there!!) Most people who run our country, be they politicians or captains of industry are morally corrupt or just plain ignorant of their actions that are leading to the destruction of our planet and unnecessary suffering of millions of people around the world. I do not wish to support such people and so living off-grid in a country that will allow this lifestyle is our goal – and we wish to share this and support others around the world in similar ventures.
7. What is your favourite roadkill recipe?
I do not have a favourite as such; I love to experiment all the time. If I were to choose a versatile dish that could accommodate any kind of meat no matter how small then it would have to be ‘Terrine’ or a ‘Pate’.
8. When did you first use roadkill in your art, and why?
I first used roadkill bird feathers to make a brooch when I was a child; I found them beautiful and wanted to recycle them. I felt an almost spiritual connection with that animal. Later in life I discovered what shamanism and animism meant, so began to understand why I had always felt this way.
After a trip to Australia in 2001 I made a necklace from roadkill kangaroo claws. Roadkill was all over the place in the outback – I had my partner at the time stop at the side of the road every time I saw a bleached white skeleton. He thought I was mad sawing off the claws – he didn’t understand my art or curiosity with death. I saw a rare resource and an opportunity to create something beautiful out of something that had passed away and was decomposing. I see beauty in the whole cycle of life. Death is so taboo in many societies and the fear of death makes it ugly. I strongly disagree. It can be a beautiful transformation, like the changing of the seasons.
9. How does the public generally respond to your art?
Until recently I owned an art gallery in Harrogate that specialized in authentic Tribal artefacts and ethnographic curiosities. The response from the public was mixed. A lot of people didn’t understand it, but many had the nerve to come in and browse and ask questions. They were snared by the stories of these beautiful and sometimes eerie looking objects and fetishes, which were anthropologically fascinating, tapping into the myth and magic of other cultures in remote far away places. Kids especially loved it, and I went to schools with an armful of artefacts and taught a kind of ‘anthropology for kids’. Afterwards, we would make masks and other tribal objects.
The gallery was a success, but unfortunately my relationship with my partner and co-owner was not and it closed down in 2007.
Whenever I have a studio to work from, I make sure that at times it is open to anyone curious enough to question what I do. My last studio was in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Once every 2 months, me and the other artists in the building had an ‘Open Studio’ evening for members of the public. My studio room (which I practically lived in) was quite different to everyone else’s and very weird to the uninitiated. The walls were covered in old tribal masks and animal skins, pictures of female gladiators and goddesses, and scarified and tattooed faces. I had a glass case full of interesting tribal jewelry from all over the world and an extensive specialized library. There were taxidermy projects in progress on the tables and I was more than happy to explain and chat about anything they saw.
After meeting me and listening to my stories about how and why I think the way I do, they left my studio with a deeper respect for, and understanding of, the objects I transform.