What's holding kangaroo meat back?
November 18, 2008 6:54 PM   Subscribe

What are the cultural barriers to kangaroo meat being a popular food in Australia?

Some Australians eat kangaroo, but the demand seems low, and a re-branding of the meat as "australus" was even conducted to make the meat more palatable, but has been unsuccessful in drawing more fans of the meat (has it?). Yet tons of kangaroos are slaughtered for dog food...

Is it just fanciful to the Aussie? Or is it disturbing, as they think back to "Skippy" and their childhood, or their coat of arms? Has any research been done on how people determine what meats are acceptable for consumption? How important is the consumption of meat in the Australian lifestyle, and how does the consumption of kangaroo meat conflict with Australian cultural standards?
posted by GIMG to Society & Culture (43 answers total)
Do you eat rats? How about rabbit or deer?

To most aussies I've met, 'roos are pests, not food.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:19 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rabbit and deer are eaten in decent quantity in the states -- unusual, but not uncommon.

Is kangaroo meat any good? They seem like pretty stringy, tough beasts.
posted by o2b at 7:21 PM on November 18, 2008

Best answer: Are you Australian? Just wondering because I'm not sure where the information you have is coming from. From my observation, I would say kangaroo isn't a super popular meat, but it's widely available (my supermarket always has it) and I would argue it's also widely accepted.

I think there are two reasons it may be a less popular meat: Firstly, it's gamey tasting, and can be quite strong the way venison is (but not he same flavour). Obviously, this will appeal to fewer people, than chicken or beef. The second reason is that it's notoriously tricky to cook properly. Incredibly lean, it is generally cooked with more skill by professional chefs. It can be tough if cooked too long. A really hot sear is good, and it goes particularly well with earthy, sweet flavours.

No one I know, apart from vegetarians (obvs.) has any objection to it from a cultural standpoint. The only people I've ever encountered who are wigged out by the concept are not Australian. They usually say things like "How could you eat Skippy?!" to which I usually answer "With a roasted beetroot puree."

Oh, and about three years ago, on Australia day, I ate portions of both the animals on the coat of arms. Trust me, I'm no thrill seeker; it was just an emu burger and later in the day a little kangaroo loin fillet.
posted by lottie at 7:23 PM on November 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

Fyshwick Markets, Canberra. Go on down and buy yourself some from the butcher's shop. You want some emu sausage? Get some of that while you're there. None of the folks I know seem too worried about eating roo; they don't seek it out, mind you, but I think it's 'cos a beefsteak does tend to taste a bit better to the average palette.
posted by barnacles at 7:26 PM on November 18, 2008

I'm not Australian, but I would have a weird mental block about eating something bipedal. Just a thought.
posted by chairmanroflmao at 7:35 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

My experience is that older people tend to think of it as pet food. Apart from that, I don't think there's any psychological barrier. Like lottie says, it can be tricky to cook, and not everyone likes it. We eat it, just not that much. The equivalence between the US deer and the roo is quite direct– they'll eat your nice garden, you might hit one with your car, and you don't eat it every day.

I'm not Australian, but I would have a weird mental block about eating something bipedal. Just a thought.
You eat poultry, right?

lottie: Technically, you'd have to add some shrike wings, a swan burger, and a roast lion to complete the coat of arms quinella.
posted by zamboni at 7:39 PM on November 18, 2008

It is apparently gaining popularity - see very recent Age article.
posted by AnnaRat at 7:41 PM on November 18, 2008

There are no cultural barriers, just the old, old habit of eating other things.
posted by Neale at 7:51 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

You eat poultry, right?
True. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I would have issues eating something with arms. Just a little past my arbitrary disgust at eating something that looks like a person.
posted by chairmanroflmao at 7:56 PM on November 18, 2008

zamboni: My own personal barrier is eating things that eat other meat in nature... you know, ruling out the lion.

(Yeah, yeah, I know they feed meat to pigs. Blech.)
posted by lottie at 7:59 PM on November 18, 2008

If it's good enough for the indigenous australians, it's good enough for me. That said;

Emu: also very good.
Camel: excellent meat, if you can get it
Buffalo: much harder to find
Crocodile: excellent eating

I think one of the blocks is that people don't really know how to cook it well. They'll get a piece of roo and try to cook it like a steak and when it goes weird (simultaneously chewy whilst also dry and yet a bit mushy) they go "meh" and go back to the beef. My local supermarket carries roo sausages (aka kanga banga's) and mince as well as the little mini roasts and steaks, so it's not a lost cause but it does take a little practice to get roo just right.

The secret, with steaks at least, it to let it rest really well after cooking. At least 10 minutes in a warm place before cutting/carving etc.
posted by ninazer0 at 7:59 PM on November 18, 2008

This seems an odd question to me.

I'm Australian, and I've got no cultural problem with eating roo. Among my peer group (chardonnay/latte drinking inner city types) it's quite the opposite - it's quite the environmentally conscientious thing to do.

Thing is, I just don't fancy it. The very reason thing that gets pushed for the meat in advertising (how lean and healthy it is) is exactly the thing I don't like about it.

Fat tastes good.

That said, I'm sure there'll be some skippy on the barbie at my place this summer, but I'll probably still be eating mysterybags sizzled in fat.
posted by pompomtom at 8:02 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Roo is reasonably widely available - both supermarkets in my suburb stock it and so does the butcher - but I think the main reason it's not more popular is that, as lottie says, it's quite gamey. If cooked right it's beautiful, surprisingly tender and extremely lean, but it's hard to do. The supermarkets tend to sell it as sausages (Kanga Bangas) or smothered in garlic or other marinade.

I find it goes well in a stew with plenty of vegies, some tomato paste and some chicken stock, where the gamey flavour is diluted but it still gives a rich meatiness. My partner has named this dish Skippy the Bush Kanga-Stew.
posted by andraste at 8:03 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Actually, ninazer0 makes a good point: I wouldn't know how to cook it. Most times I've eaten roo has been in pub or restaurant meals...
posted by pompomtom at 8:03 PM on November 18, 2008

I am Australian and it's widely available in supermarkets and restaurants where I live. I've never tried it. I'd give it a go if someone else ordered it and I could have a taste. But I wouldn't order it, or buy it to cook at home, myself. It's a bit complicated to explain why.

First of all, my gut reaction is ''urgh/ew/yuck/god, why would you?'' I suspect I wouldn't like it very much. It's supposed to be gamey and tough.

Then, also... yeah, they're pests and I have, in the back of my mind that there would be parasites and other health issues. So even though I know the meat I see in the supermarket wouldn't be on sale if it had, uh, quality control concerns, I'm still put off.

And where I live, it's marketed to tourists in overpriced restaurants which does nothing to increase its appeal to me. It seems more of a novelty than something I'd actually seek out for you know, dinner.

I know it's healthy, but I don't really care. So are other things I *know* taste yummy and would much rather eat.

The only Australian's I personally have met who have eaten roo are either i) mad gourmands who eat all kinds of odd things or ii) indigenous people for whom it's is part of a more-or-less traditional diet or iii) old bushies who'll tell you all about the time they ate Big Red or some other native animal baked over campfire coals 500km north of Woop Woop.

I sort of think of it as something I'd eat if I HAD to, if there was nothing else, like in the bush. Or that I'd try if it was offered, out of curiosity/politeness. Roo is on the same ''Yeah, maybe, if it was put in front of me'' list as croc, snake, goanna, ants and witchety grubs.

Oh and I like Skippy as much as the next child of 70s Australia and am quite fond of wallabies and kangaroos. But then I like sad-eyed cows, fluffy feathered chickens and cuddly wooly lambs when I meet them in their pre-dinner form and I still eat steak, chicken breasts and chops. So no, for me, it's not about how cute they are.

However, I am no expert. There may well be sizable enclaves of excited kangaroo sausage munching Australians that I am unaware of.

This article (from 1997, mind) suggests that Australian's who have not tried kangaroo have a negative perception of the meat. I'd say, based on my own experience that's still true.

And this February 2008 update bears out my impression, noting only marginal changes in consumer uptake. It notes that even though kangaroo is widely available now, a lot of people aren't sure how to prepare it.
posted by t0astie at 8:12 PM on November 18, 2008

Kangaroo meat seemed quite prevalent when I was in Australia (earlier this year). All the Australians I asked had had it, but also added that it had to be cooked correctly. It definitely seemed more readily available than something like rabbit or deer here in North America.

I had some kangaroo filets, and later some kangaroo fajitas, and thought the meat was great. The cook had a specific procedure he had to follow to cook it correctly, so that is probably the main issue.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:15 PM on November 18, 2008

Yeah, I'm with the mob (!) here. I eat it quite often when I see it on a menu, but rarely at home. I can cook a steak without much thought, but kangaroo requires a bit of effort. Nothing cultural, I just know I'm not good enough to make it taste nice.
posted by twirlypen at 8:15 PM on November 18, 2008

Its good for the environment. Cosmos magazine Aug 2008:
"Eating more kangaroo has an incredible array of benefits, for our environment, for dietary health and as a tasty red meat," he said. "The soft padded feet of kangaroos are far kinder to the land than the hooves of sheep and cattle, which have caused untold damage and consequent land erosion."
Also, it sounds like it pretty common actually:
In the past decade, the proportion of Australians eating kangaroo meat has risen from 51 to 58.5 per cent, according to a recent national survey conducted by the FATE project.

Around 15 per cent of Australians are regular consumers of kangaroo meat, eating it four or more times per year, while more than 50 per cent of people have tried it (33 per cent) or are open to trying it (21 per cent).
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:19 PM on November 18, 2008

It's changing. A couple of years ago I couldn't get roo in my small town. Now one of the butchers sells it.

Unfortunately people's eating habits are hard to change. The best way to eat roo is as a nice medium rare steak with a sweet (and high fat) sauce, or as a casserole. My family swear by my roo rendang, which is greatly looked forward to when I cook it.

Disclaimer: in our household the only meat that we eat is chicken and roo these days for environmental reasons. And we only eat meat 1-3 times per month.
posted by singingfish at 8:53 PM on November 18, 2008

damn dirty ape: I'd be cautious of extrapolating those survey results into a conclusion that kangaroo is commonly eaten in Australia.

Four times a year is a pretty low number at which to claim ''regular consumption''. And those four times could be anything from trying it from a friend's BBQ to going to an Australiana themed restaurant with a visitor from overseas, a one-off curiosity buy of Kanga Bangas or, I don't know, frying up something killed on a hunting trip.

It's not the same as chucking it into the shopping basket at the supermarket every week.

I'm also suspicious of the figure that 58 per cent of people are ''eating kangaroo meat''. This could well includes those who have eaten it once who may not like it and may never try it again.

We also don't know how big their sample size was, or who was surveyed which is a bit of a red flag.

And bear in mind these stats have been provided by people who *want* roo on the menu. For excellent environmental reasons, it seems. Nonetheless, they are not impartial.

By way of contrast, Australians chewed through about 74kg per capita of beef, pork, veal, mutton, poultry and offal in 1998. Despite overall meat consumption declining... that's a lot of not-Kangaroo.

More people may eat kangaroo than they used to, but it's still not many. Especially compared to more traditional meats.
posted by t0astie at 9:00 PM on November 18, 2008

I wonder if there's some snobbery - not just because it's pet food but because it's aboriginal mud people and outlaw cattle station food that nice home owners don't eat.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:09 PM on November 18, 2008

I'm an Aussie & I ate kangaroo meat just the other night. In fact, I probably eat it about as much as I eat any other kind of meat.

The thing is, I think you've framed the question the wrong way, in terms of "cultural barriers". I think it's something else entirely, whether you call it cultural or something else is up to you:

Kangaroo meat has a strong, gamey taste that takes some getting used to, and is difficult to cook without making it super-tough.

In fact, I've never managed to cook kangaroo except in mince or sausage form without the meat becoming a write-off. I think it needs to be cooked very rare, and very quickly, but I can't guarantee this because, as I said, I've never been able to do it successfully.

This means that people can't just substitute kangaroo for beef or lamb or whatever in their favourite recipes - the strong flavour & required techniques mean that existing recipes are close to useless. A new cuisine-paradigm needs to emerge before widespread consumption happens. It's already there in top restaurants & fancier cafes, but probably not in the average home yet.

Shame that, because it's a very healthy meat (super low fat), kangaroos are a pest, and their paws don't fuck up the topsoil & cause erosion like the hard hooves of cattle & sheep.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:11 PM on November 18, 2008

ok, lottie said it first.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:13 PM on November 18, 2008

Lesser Shrew: I believe it's more likely to be your urban gastronome or environmentalist who eats roo more frequently, so I'm not buying the snobbery thing at all - except for maybe food snobbery, which isn't what you mean. I have noticed the fine dining restaurants in Sydney are much more likely to have roo on the menu than a cheaper restaurant or cafe.

I'm with pompomtom when they say "chardonnay/latte drinking inner city types" - these are my people too, and I've noticed a greater acceptance of roo meat among my friends than, say, the rural types I know who are more likely to think of it as roadkill.
posted by lottie at 9:21 PM on November 18, 2008

also, for a data point: i live in the inner city, but wouldn't touch a chardonnay or latte if you paid me.

strictly a shiraz/espresso drinking type here.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:30 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

(or Southwark stout, if we're talking complements to roo meat)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:31 PM on November 18, 2008

I have no cultural barrier to eating it, it just tastes terrible. Looking up-thread a little Ubu has it, a really gamey taste and if you aren't careful it's tough. The "cook carefully" part I can handle, it's the flavour I can't.
posted by markr at 9:43 PM on November 18, 2008

I eat the stuff regularly and have often found my local supermarkets are sold out of roo, so it has at least some popularity.

It is gamey, but if you like venison that is grand. It is different to cook to beef.

I eat it because I've had low iron on and off and it's got high iron, is low in fat and is also very cheap. I'm not a Green indeed I regard that lot as the Left's equivalent of One Nation. So it isn't just Greens.

I've heard the folk story that roo is full of parasites quite a bit. And the parasite load of kangaroos, having evolved in Australia, is apparently quite impressive. However Australia has tough food regulations and I have faith that the stuff you get in supermarkets is safe.
posted by sien at 9:43 PM on November 18, 2008

Lesser Shrew: I don't think it's unpopular because it's perceived as Aboriginal food. There are rednecks aplenty where I am and some people make unkind fun of the lack of fruit and veg in some Aboriginal people's diets, or complain about Indigenous hunting of endangered animals like turtles for food, but I've never heard condescending racist talk applied to bush tucker per se.

And if anything kangaroo's indigenous status would increase its cachet among the urban gourmet crowd, I'd think. It's just that urban gourmets are not in the majority in Australia. So while some people do eat it, those people are not most people.
posted by t0astie at 10:03 PM on November 18, 2008

I think it really is the dog food (I mean, would you eat horse meat?) and hard-to-cook aspects. I've eaten it, but I tend not to cook red meat for myself (only have it when I eat out) so it's not a regular part of my diet. Great steaks though! I do look wistfully at it when I'm in the supermarket...if it was on special I'd probably grab some. It's definitely becoming more popular - both my local supermarkets now have a full section of it, where a couple years ago I wouldn't really see it anywhere, so somebody must be eating it.
posted by jacalata at 11:24 PM on November 18, 2008

For what it's worth, all this talk of parasites is news to me.

(also Ubu: I'm a long mac bloke myself, but you know what I mean...)
posted by pompomtom at 12:37 AM on November 19, 2008

I've tried it, and I'm not a good cook, which helps considerably with such lean meat. Also, I was raised to be ware of feral meat (pigs for example) which might have parasites in them. It's irrational, I think, but it's a lurking idea for me because there's so many kangas there's no point in farming them, is there? I have also eaten snails (once to try them, and I didn't mind them), and agreed to eat a witchety grub on a dare, but was relieved when it was overcooked on the campfire and exploded. I wouldn't eat crocodile at the risk of being a once-removed cannibal.

A Dutch pal of mine is surprised more people don't eat horse, so I think it's really down to cultural perspectives.

Oh and if it matters, I do like chardy, but I'm as happy with a $5 bottle as a $20 one. Latte has too much milk in it.

It never occurred to me that people would avoid it because of the indigenous connection. Witchety grubs maybe, but not roos.
posted by b33j at 12:40 AM on November 19, 2008

Depending on who you listen to, kangaroo meat is either crawling with parasites and slaughtered in unhygenic conditions or totally OK.

(On the last link, scroll down to the Nutritional and Public Health Issues section for the gubbinment take on roo meat parasites.)
posted by t0astie at 12:45 AM on November 19, 2008

Roo doesn't have a 'cut'. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken all have identifiable portions (t-bone, loin chop, chump chop, drumstick etc) whereas roo just sort of comes in lumps where it has been cut from the bone. These lumps look unattractive and like an unknown thing. I think this has a lot to do with it's perceived unpopularity in the market place.

I am a roo eater for all sorts of reasons: it's organic meat, it's full of iron, it's cheap. But the main reason is that it tastes fantastic and a little bit goes a long way as far as meat cravings go. It is also the most tender meat I have eaten.

Want to try it but don't know how to cook it? Buy one of the marinated portions sold in the supermarkets and throw it on the bbq or under the grill. Cook on med-high until the outside looks cooked, then cook a little, and only a little, more. The inside should be med-rare. Cut and check if needed. Roo, especially the marinated stuff, is redder than beef so it will be redder inside even when cooked to medium. Don't cook to the same colour as a med or well done beef steak or it will be tough.

posted by Kerasia at 2:03 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Our local Coles Supermarket (in Melbourne). Had mini-Kangaroo roasts - preseasoned with herbs. Tasted divine! Especially in a sandwich the next day.

God my mouth is watering at the thought of it... I live in the UK now :(

We had kangaroo quite regularly back home for the reasons posted above. Its very lean.. and very cheap. Meat on the whole is very cheap in Australia compared to the rest of the world, so I guess people are just as likely to stay 'safe' and pick a side of beef or lamb rather than get into the 'what-ifs' of cooking kangaroo. It is tricky to cook, especially when frying. As a result people either undercook it, or fry the hell out of it. It took us a few goes to get it right.

I think its movement into the mainstream is quite recent, so it might take a few years for it to become fully ingrained into the Australian dinner table.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:31 AM on November 19, 2008

It costs too much!

It is usually as much, if not more than prime aged King Island beef (the best in the world IMOHO)

Humans are only allowed to be sold kangaroo that has been 'farmed' to guarantee that it is free from parasites. They are expensive to farm because they can jump bl00dy high fences.

Pets are allowed to eat the wild kangaroos, which are normally in plague proportions, so it is VERY cheap.
posted by lamby at 4:55 AM on November 19, 2008

I just spent a lot of time in australia but i am from the states so i dont know if i have the oz background you are looking for.

I ate TONS of kangaroo, why?

1)it was cheaper then beef and chicken and the grocery store
2)it tasted pretty good. We used it anywhere ground beef could be used, pasta, burritos, etc.

I felt no stigma towards eating kangaroo, but as i said i lived in a house with other non ausies.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 7:12 AM on November 19, 2008

Oh and it tasted similar to venison as mentioned by people above.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 7:13 AM on November 19, 2008

I don't know... seems like it would be 'hairy' to me? (Hairy?? I don't know why? I picture some 'roo steaks' and then after a moment, suddenly they seem... hairy.)

I'd give it a go though. They're not funny like horses. Dear god... you don't eat things that have a sense of humor! Possums are a bit funny, but not funny enough. I'd probably eat them. Koalas aren't funny at all but.. No.
Ah-ha! That's where I'm getting 'hairy' from. Kangaroos/Wallabies look a bit mangy and tick ridden and they don't feel all that nice either. Possums might be a little funny - but they look good and they feel very nice. (Not for eating - just as a general observation.) The fur is kinda long too so if there are ticks you don't see them. And Koalas are just fucking disgusting. Ick.

But although the Possum seems like it would be more palatable, we've had some good times. So.. sorry Skip' - the Roo gets it.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:49 AM on November 19, 2008

Do people do anything with Kangaroos? Do we have a deal with them? My head, thank you mu~ha~ha~ha~har is now full images of people riding into battle on 'roos.

Thanks, Aussies, for the input on the xenophobia, or lack thereof. I've had Kangaroo and it was fine. Not as great as emu, though. That's good eatin'.

All this talk of rednecks made me curious - did Google fail me or is it actually legal to hunt them at night?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:50 PM on November 19, 2008

Do people do anything with Kangaroos? Do we have a deal with them?

I've already answered that one elsewhere.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:11 PM on November 19, 2008

I've only had it in restaurants and sausages so far, but was going to try bbq-ing a steak this summer. I've had people squeal "You can't eat Skippy!" when I order it at a group dinner. I usually reply "Watch me" and offer them a bite.

I enjoy gamey tasting meat, but if someone said they'd tried venison and didn't like it, I'd tell them there's a good chance they wouldn't like roo either.

lamby is wrong about all roo meat for humans being farmed - there are no roo farms in Australia. Some more info about commercial harvesting can be found at G Magazine (environmentalists).
posted by harriet vane at 6:01 AM on November 20, 2008

Roo doesn't have a 'cut'.

It does, it's just not the cuts we're familiar with - viz. Kangaroo Cuts, or the longer pdf Kangaroo Specifications and Selected Meat Cuts.

All this talk of rednecks made me curious - did Google fail me or is it actually legal to hunt them at night?

Only in NSW and Victoria, but the rednecks are allowed to shoot back.

If you mean roo shooting, it's often done at night.

What Life's Really Like for the Roo Shooter.

Lagniappe: American backpacker's account of working as the offsider to a roo shooter.

"Embarrassed, I stutter out an apology. I later learn it's impossible to hurt a 'roo shooter's feelings with a bunch of tiny words. And as I’ll discover when I chop the paws off of my first kangaroo, its blood spraying into my eyes and open mouth, my own life had already become more different than I could ever have imagined."
posted by zamboni at 10:28 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

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