THOSE brought up on Beatrix Potter, the author of “Squirrel Nutkin” and other long-loved nursery tales, may flinch; but Andrew Thornton, manager of the Budgens supermarket in the north London suburb of Crouch End, says sales of squirrel meat have soared since he started selling it in 2010.
The bushy-tailed tree-dwellers are just one category in a burgeoning market. Osgrow, a British-based firm, exports bison, crocodile (“ideal for barbecues”) and kudu meat (“juicy and low-fat”) to customers in countries where controls on wild meat are tighter. One such market is Germany, where hygiene laws forbid the eating of “cat and doglike flesh”. The German environment ministry confirms that this includes squirrel; the country’s media mock English rat-eaters. Australia sent quantities of kangaroo meat to Russia until an import ban in 2009, ostensibly on hygiene grounds (it is now being reconsidered).
Importing meat such as grouse can get around America’s fiddly laws on game farming. Zebra and wildebeest are popular too. Squirrel meat, though, is already an established delicacy in Ozark country and Tennessee; eating species farmed for fur (such as beaver) is also allowed.
No legal obstacle exists to eating the king of beasts, but roars of opposition prevented a restaurant in Tucson, Arizona, from selling lion flesh in tacos. The practicalities are daunting, too. Dave Arnold, an American campaigner, recommends braising it at 54° centigrade for fully 24 hours. The muscle content is so tough that the meat bunches up when it hits the pan; “Hold it down,” he advises.
Born Free USA, a lion-loving charity, decries the trade as a “cruel promotional gimmick”. Viva, a British animal-welfare group, believes that the squirrel-eating vogue represents a “wildlife massacre”.
Yet massacres are not always wrong. The “Save Our Squirrels” campaign urges diners to gobble the North American grey squirrel. Introduced into Britain in 1870, it has largely driven out the indigenous red squirrel (such as the fictional Nutkin). This “eat them to beat them” approach already helps keep down the population of lion fish, a rapacious stripy sea-beast which devours protected fish stocks off America’s west coast.
Wild meat is not always tasty. Mr Arnold says black bear is “bloody and a bit metallic”. Nor is it always healthy. Doctors in Kentucky say eating squirrel brains is linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (better known as mad-cow disease). Squirrels are now mainly sold headless. Some think those who eat them need their heads examined, too.
Source: The Economist