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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Newly Omnivorous

As I mentioned in a recent post, Australians don't like Rabbits. When I say "Australians", I'm generally talking about Anglo-Australians. I'm not clear what Aboriginal Australians think of the plague of rabbits let loose on their land, but I'd hazard a guess there's a certain vindication in the killing of them. And rabbit's gotta be some of the more choice bush-meat around.

And bush-meat brings me to kangaroo. Aboriginal Australians have a long (50-80 thousand year) relationship with the kangaroo. Anglo-Australian culture has a similar relationship with the rabbit, but only about a 200 year relationship with the kangaroo. Australians don't hate kangaroos like they hate rabbits. They are considered a "pest" in some places, and culling (roo shootin') is a government sponsored pastime in some parts. But you just can't develop the hate for kangaroos that you can for rabbits. Roos belong here.

The Anglo Australian relationship with the kangaroo is a bit more complicated than I ever realized. This is something I came to when I started eating them (but I'll get to that later). Where in the US we had Lassie, 1960's Australia had Skippy. Where in the US we have a national identity with the eagle, the bear and the bison, Australians identify with the emu (pronounced "e-myu" if you don't want to get pulled up by the locals), the kangaroo and most importantly the sheep.

There's an engrained cultural reference to Australia being a "nation built on the sheep's back". Maybe that's just the lamb council talking. Ask Sam Kekovich, who comes out every Australia day with a slammin add for lamb that typically boosts sales some exponential percentage (again, according to the lamb council).

If you like to laugh at lefties, hippies and vegetarians you should see these lamb council adds. If you are a leftie hippy vegetarian, and have a good sense of humor... So the kangaroo sits between the emu and the sheep. It's the Aussy Lassie, and it's a pest. Big reds have been know for violent home invasions in FNQ.

There are some feelings all Australians share about kangaroos. They're a little tired of kangaroos, boomerangs, koala bears and didgeridoos. So am I. Australiana played itself out in the 80's with Crocodile Dundee and Kangaroo Shoes (the ones with the zipper pockets) . For reasons I'll never understand, the people of this very fine jewel of the southern hemisphere, have cultivated cultural cringe into a national identity. But, back to what the roo means for the average Aussy. It's the biggest quirky animal left on the continent. Watch a mob lounging under a tree and you'll see some very familiar scratching and postures of repose. Roos, especially the big reds, have some eerily human attributes (like being bipedal and having uncommonly forward facing eyes for a herbivore(?)).

But there are a couple distinct differences in the way Aussy's consider roos. As I see it, the Anglo-Australian relationship to kangaroos can be broken down into two groups; The Monarchists, and the Republicans.

The monarchists look towards England. They view the kangaroo as an unfortunate and strange beastie that's not much good for anything. They're totally foreign, and as such, a bothersome reminder of all things not English. The kangaroo's association with Australia is one of the trinkets on the charm bracelet of cultural cringe monarchists wear when they (inevitably) go overseas, like an albatross 'round the neck. Monarchists are much more likely to ride into battle with a sheep on their shield than a kangaroo.

The republicans don't look towards England. They more aspire to be independent like the US, but they don't necessarily look towards the US ("Republican" as in, in favor of seceding from the commonwealth and becoming a republic). Republicans suffer more of the invasion guilt than monarchists, so their posture towards the kangaroo is more apologetic. The kangaroo's more human traits serve as a reminder of native title, and the unique isolation of this island continent. Republicans are more likely to avoid riding into battle with a kangaroo on their shield, lest the story get twisted into "and they rode into battle on kangaroos". That Australians ride kangaroos is urban myth that never seems to die. Nobody rides kangaroos. As near as I can tell, nobody ever has. I doubt any Australian would try (because it would just bolster the myth if the attempt got out). If anyone were likely to try to ride a kangaroo, it would be a German tourist. They're legendary through all of Australia for ill-prepared trips into the desert and acting in culturally insensitive ways.

So, what about the eating of kangaroos? Aboriginal Australians don't seem to have qualms about it. (most) Anglo-Australians do. But to be fair, as I pointed out earlier, Skippy was Australia's Lassie. If the French loved Mr. Ed as much as they love Jerry Louis, would they eat cheval?
The thought of eating kangaroo to most Anglo-Australians is similar to eating horse or dog - or worse, eating dog food. Roo is known to be one of those non-beef "additives" in dog food. It's also known to be the mystery meat in "meat pies" that don't stipulate beef or pork on the package.

So, I'm eating roo these days. I'd been a weak vegetarian since 1989. And by "weak" I mean not very strict. In the past 15 years I've probably averaged a portion of red meat every six months. And when I got to Sydney I upgraded to pescetarian pretty quickly. There's some good fish in this town. It'd be a waste not to sample the local tucker.

But recently "weak" had also come to mean dizzy, anemic and lethargic. I never was a very good vegetarian, doing all the completing of proteins (beans with rice) or whatever needs to be done to make it work. I'm just not that into food. I recently came to the conclusion that if I had to give up either dreaming or eating, I'd give up eating. (if it came down to sleeping or eating, I'd probably choose sleeping, but I'd probably live to regret that choice). Anyway, red meat is the solution to the low iron levels. I'm also starting to wonder if it might be a solution to other complaints, but we'll see. The red meat of choice, roo. Why roo?

Nothing is ever simple with me. Maybe I'm over thinking it, but roo is the hippie, leftie, sustainable choice. They're meant to be here. And staying away from lamb keeps me out of the Sam Kekovich/monarchist camp; the only appropriate place for a yank in Oz. Roos in the bush don't cause desertification like cattle do, and you don't grow feed for them that eventuates in screwed up water tables and salty soil. The meat is red, but lean and low in cholesterol (none?). Had the settlers put the work in to domesticate roos 200 years ago we might have seen lovely tender roo steak being popular by now.

As it is, it's not bad. From what I know, the stuff you can buy in grocery stores and butcher shops is farmed. Wild kangaroo is "full of worms" as one of my co-workers put it. This issues of BSE and parasites has been one of the main hooks to hang my vegetarian hat on, but I'm assured the farm roo is totally fine (?!). I don't cook it inside (gamey). And I do have a hard time looking at it, touching it, cooking it, and eating it, but that just comes from not dealing with meat for nigh on a couple decades.

The real question is, do I feel the difference? Yes, yes I do. It's put a little hop in my step (couldn't resist that one). And that won't come as a surprise to anyone (on the lamb council). The only surprise is that it took me so long to come to the conclusion (which was actually brought to me by some wise and uncommon people).

Another thing I like about kangaroos, they've found a way to get around on two feet that isn't walking. I'm not a fan of the walking.


Anonymous said...

how do you feel about the Segway? i hate 'em. they do little to change transortation time, have massive storage issues, and are costly (i suppose that will lessen in time). plus they eliminate the one good quality of walking, some much-needed exercise.

p.s. man, those "word verification"s below are a bitch. maybe i need glasses...

Brendo said...

There is a place for Segway technology, but I don't think it's in the right format right now. I think the disabled could benifit, and there's probably robotic applications, but I agree that the current implemenation is a wank. sorry about the word verifications, but I've been spammed in the past and the verification prevents that.