Kangaroo is far more environmentally sustainable and healthy than beef, and it's just one of many interesting animals we could be eating more of.
Kangaroo Steak with Red Chilli Ragu - Winterhaven Restaurant in Australia. Photo by Avlxyz via Flickr
China is eating more red meat these days. By one count, their appetite for flesh will grow by 17 percent over the next seven years. That may not seem like much, but considering the Chinese already eat twice as much beef as steak-addled Americans, you can see how quickly and steeply this new craving could drive up demand at cattle auctions. And we’re seeing similar spikes in Brazil, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, and almost every other nation with a growing, aspirational middle class. As global consumption of conventional meats skyrockets, the world will face new environmental pressures from methane-producing livestock and sloppy ranches. Which is exactly why we should be thanking our lucky stars for the increasing availability and global popularity of kangaroo meat, one of many largely untapped, more sustainable, and still delicious alternative red meats available to up-and-coming carnivores.
For those who only know kangaroos from National Geographic specials, it’s easy to think of them as some rare, exotic, and probably protected creature. But in Australia, the 58.6 million strong herds of these hopping menaces are borderline pests, mowed down by hunters in annual culls of 5 to 7 million animals. Still more are commercially raised, creating thousands of jobs and millions in revenues for Australians. Kangaroo meat is lean, leathery if overcooked, but rich like beef or oxtail if properly prepared. Yet the animals contain less fat as well as more iron and omega-3 fatty acids, produce less methane per pound than cattle, don’t damage topsoil like hooved livestock, and (so far) are all organic and free-range. The meat is so sustainable, plentiful, and healthy that Australia has a kangatarian population who believe it’s such an ethical meat that they’ll willingly except it from their vegetarianism. And it retails at half to one-third the price of beef.
Some experience guilt over eating kangaroos, but given the chance, kangaroos would eat you and everyone you know.
Those low prices are partially a result of the fact that, although kangaroo was a major menu item in the early 20th century, modern Australians have been losing interest in the meat. Attributed to the “Skippy Factor,” a national aversion to eating Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, the star of the local equivalent of Lassie, as well as a sense that kangaroo is low-class bush meat, this reluctance has no bearing on the actual flavor of kangaroo. But because a fifth of Australians would never dream of eating Skippy, the nation—already a red meat exporter to the ravenous developing world—is also tacking kangaroo meat onto its list of agricultural exports.
And the world appears to be opening up to Australia’s hopping offerings. In addition to China, steaks and burgers started cropping up in New York City, after the state realized kangaroo was not actually endangered and lifted its ban on the meat in 2010, . Regular shipments come in from Queensland, through the bustling Hunts Point Market in the Bronx.
Anti-kangaroo meat activists have tried to point out a few potential problems with exporting ‘roo steaks. These naysayers argue that if just every Australian ate one portion of kangaroo a week, the nation would need to cull 22 million a year, eventually endangering the wild population. They also argue that the death of wild kangaroos at hunters’ hands is inhumane and that game meat is generally not safe. But time and experience have proven that most game meats are relatively safe and can be easily monitored. And being shot by hunters probably pales in comparison to the horrors of commercial slaughterhouses. Plus, most importantly, no one’s arguing that the world should adopt kangaroo as its sole meat of choice—only that kangaroo ought to be part of a more varied, diverse, and thus environmentally low-stress meat diet for the ravenous consumers of the world.
Kangaroo meat in an Australian supermarket. Photo by Roke via Wikimedia commons
Particularly across America, specialty meats are gaining steady traction. Antelope, bison, elk, emu, and ostrich have already been established as favorites and have worked their way out of hip Williamsburg street carts and specialty supermarkets into restaurants across the nation. Anything from camel to raccoon to yak has its own boosters, willing to tout their favorite meat’s merits as an under-utilized, nutritious, and less environmentally intense food source. (Not to mention the massive potential of occasionally eating road kill—the ultimate in ethical and sustainable meat.) As these meats rise in popularity, they’ll take stress off the cattle sector, pull power away from factory farms, and take a little methane out of the air. So as a meat eater in an increasingly bloody world, when you do gorge yourself, try doing it with a bit of ‘roo meat every now and then. You’d be surprised at how good casual environmental consciousness can taste.