Those migrating geese look pretty tasty...
October 25, 2005 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Purely for the sake of argument: exactly why, in terms of legality, practicality, and health, should I not kill and eat animals I find in the city?

Obviously this sort of thing is simply Not Done, but when I've mentioned it to friends they say vague things about "pollution" and "parasites". I want specifics.
posted by squidlarkin to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, in San Fran the pigeons all have weird diseased feet. It'd turn be off from eating them. If I were homeless, though, I'd eat whatever I found. Especially if I could arrange to feed them on cornmeal or something for a week. I don't know what the laws are, but I figure if you're discreet, who cares?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2005

By "animals I find in the city", do you mean rats? Homeless dogs? Prowling cats? All of the above?
posted by iconomy at 11:55 AM on October 25, 2005

I saw on a tv special about Pale Male, the hawk that lives near Central Park in NYC, that one of the dangers to hawks is accidentally injesting pigeons that have consumed pigeon-control poison. So I'd assume that would be a danger to a human as well.
posted by xo at 11:56 AM on October 25, 2005

I don't see what kind of argument you could even have about this. In terms of legality and health? Do we need to research exactly what laws you'd break if you ate someone's pet, or what diseases you'd probably contract from eating a rat or a pigeon? As for practicality, well, if you don't care about laws or diseases, then I guess there's really nothing stopping you from eating every animal that's unfortunate enough to cross your path, but that's much like saying that it's perfectly safe to jump off the Empire State Building if you disregard the sudden stop at the end.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:03 PM on October 25, 2005

I'd imagine the cops would take issue with hunting in urban, populated areas.
I'd further suppose that the animals which live in cities are rarely eaten (and are perhaps less delicious. Dogs, cats and whatnot.)
And finally, yeah, you don't know what drugs are in those animals.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 12:03 PM on October 25, 2005

Well, although these animals may be free-range and technically organic, you still don't know what they've been eating or what state of health they're in. So you could be eating a rabid raccoon, a brain-diseased squirrel, or a Comet-fed crow. There are no inspections of such animals. So you're taking a big risk.

You're also probably breaking a variety of laws.

The novel Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor discusses urban food (squirrels and the like) at length. You might be interested in reading it, even if it is fiction.
posted by acoutu at 12:07 PM on October 25, 2005

legal: you can't kill animals that belong to people, so you're left with usually the lesser-tasty animals. You can't often shoot them in city areas because of gun laws. Strangling a pigeon with your bare hands is probably worse than eating it. There may be laws about eviscerating them in public, so again the "why are you asking?" question sort of becomes important to give further answers.

practical: they taste bad, or worse than other available food options in your odd scenario [i.e. eating stuff that grows on trees in cities etc]. If you don't have to, it's messy and inconveneint. People will think you're gross and/or a performance artist.

health: what people have said. The FDA doesn't do terribly much but at least it tries to set standards for disease-free-ness of meats sold in the US. Animals that eat garbage and other scraps are more of a question mark in terms of how healthful their flesh will be. Your animal, if you did not kill it yourself, may be rotten and/or putrefied, and it mgith be hard to tell. This would be awful tasting and possibly unhealthy if it were rotten, filled with bacteria or other organisms thought the rotting process [maggots, etc].

I ate a groundhog that my friend shot and killed. While I didn't regret doing so, I won't do it again in the future unless my other options for food are severely curtailed.
posted by jessamyn at 12:13 PM on October 25, 2005

If you started garrotting Canadian Geese in the middle of the night around here, and feasting on pate' during the day, some people around here would label you a hero.

Other than the fact that most predators (cats, most dogs of any size, etc) aren't good eating, there's not much getting in your way. Avoid sick animals, get a book on how to safely prepare exotic game (rats, for example) and you'll probably survive for some time.

You may turn Gollum-like from the evilness of it all, but that's beside the point.
posted by unixrat at 12:14 PM on October 25, 2005

If you were at the University of Victoria you could contact this guy to find out if he's experienced any ill effects from killing and eating a few of the UVic bunnies.
posted by MsMolly at 12:37 PM on October 25, 2005

Or how about the Road Toad ala mode?
posted by Pressed Rat at 12:57 PM on October 25, 2005

practical: they taste bad

Do they now? Here in Brooklyn we have ducks and geese in Prospect Park. Ducks and geese = yum. They are the same duck and geese species you can hunt upstate.

Also, pigeon is quite good. I'll give you that city living pigeons are probably not as good as those raised for eating, but talk to any frenchman - a pigeon is good eats.
posted by spicynuts at 1:30 PM on October 25, 2005

Yeah, pigeons that have been raised on a proper diet are delicious. So are ducks, geese, fish, and even dogs and squirrels if you believe what people say.

The problem is that animals' flesh tends to taste like what they've been eating. Animals that eat bland feed taste bland. Animals that forage in the woods get this wonderful woodsy, gamy flavor. Predators that eat fish wind up tasting fishy.

And I'd bet you any money that animals that eat from a Dumpster taste like Dumpster.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2005

jessamyn, is your information from personal experience?

I would have no problem with strangling a pigeon or squirrel (and have done it in mercy-killing situations).

I have ZERO faith in the fda's quality control. I do trust my own judgement. I doubt too many people'd eat an animal they found dead in a gutter, but they might.

I have never heard that pigeons taste bad- in fact I think they were originally brought to the states from the old world for eating, though I'm not sure. They aren't native to North America. I'd guess squirrels are a little chewy, but people have been eating them for centuries without any damage.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:01 PM on October 25, 2005

I have heard that the geese and ducks you find in city parks are unpleasant-tasting because they are eating junk food, garbage, and grass which is coated in fertilizer and sprays, instead of natural foods. But I have never eaten one myself.

Also, your local hunting laws will apply. You will probably still need a hunting license and a proper season to take geese, whether with a shotgun at an upstate lake, or your bare hands in Central Park.
posted by Rubber Soul at 2:49 PM on October 25, 2005

It seems there's an assumption made by a lot of people in this thread that you're primarily concerned with eating roadkill or vermin, which I don't think is necessarily true. In my fairly urban area we've got rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, and possums; and those are just mammalian species. At least three of those qualify as food in some areas. It would be fairly easy to set up a trap for some of these animals instead of actually going "hunting". So I think the question is really, what's wrong with eating suburban rabbit (Hassenpfeffer!!!!) or possum if you've caught and killed it yourself? I'm not actually advocating doing so, but what would be the real risk? And do we really want to get into discussing the feeding habits or living conditions of farm-raised animals and trying to decide whether that's better than a little dumpster diving?
posted by LionIndex at 2:59 PM on October 25, 2005

If you get a pigeon young enough - like 4 weeks old - it is squab. Definitely on the menu of some restaurants if raised as meat, but not if trapped off the court house roof.
posted by Cranberry at 3:54 PM on October 25, 2005

I've had raccoon - more of a country raccoon than a city raccoon, I guess - but it was actually pretty damn good.
posted by sluggo at 5:08 PM on October 25, 2005

but not if trapped off the court house roof.

Interesting story..I used to work on the Newburgh/Beacon Bridge in Upstate NY. We had a guy who was on the bridge cleaning/painting crew. This crew would go under the bridge and powerspray all the pigeon shit and other detritus off and then paint/rustproof, etc. Anyway, this guy used to go up there about once a month with a bag and just grab a dozen or so baby pigeons and bring em home and cook em up for the family. Not quite the court house roof, but you get the point.
posted by spicynuts at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2005

Don't know if it's really true, but I've heard Hemingway quoted as confessing that he kept himself fed in leaner years from the well-fed pigeons in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. you're left with usually the lesser-tasty animals...laws about eviscerating them in public...

Nope...squirrel and pigeon are both tasty. And they can be evicerated at home, in the kitchen.

The trash, fast-food, and possible pigeon-poison diet could be problematic, though -- garbage in, garbage out. Do like Hemingway and pick up the pigeons most likely to hang out around rich people.
posted by desuetude at 6:53 PM on October 25, 2005

Wasn't there some sort of problem with urban foxhunting in England? I thought I read a piece about that somewhere.
posted by afroblanca at 7:08 PM on October 25, 2005

Aw, man. desuetude beat me to the Hemingway reference.

But, I've often considered this question myself. I think that it comes down to learning which game is worth taking. A pigeon that's sick and nasty is not something to eat, although a healthy one might be delicious even if it grew up in the city. Learn your game.

Killing the animal itself might get you busted for something... but, if it's in season and you have a permit, you're probably golden.

Also, most of the healthy ones are not the sort you can catch with your bare hands. You need a projectile weapon of some sort. Here's my suggestion, the bola. In practice, you can make this with heavy steel washers and twine. I recommend hemp twine, but anything with a bit of spring to it is good.

You throw it by twirling it around and releasing it so that it is aimed at your target. It automatically opens up and ensnares them. After they're caught, you must quickly close the distance and kill them, otherwise they may escape quite quickly.

It's really quite easy to use. Sight, twirl once or twice, and throw. Accelerate your bola slowly, or it'll make noise that the prey will hear.

(If you feel up to it, a net can be made by running lines between the spokes.)

I caught, but never killed (or harmed beyond the trauma of being ensnared), dozens of rabits this way in suburban lawns back home. It was a sort of catch-and-release thing.

A possible improvement, if you have good fabrication facilities, is the production of a bola-strand with varied springiness. That is, the tip might be very plastic, while closer to the handle/vertex it might be more elastic. It would definitely help the tangling problems of a bum throw, and help deployment. But, it might make it easier for prey to escape.

Have you considered a blowgun?
posted by Netzapper at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2005

Well there's the Migratory Bird Act for a start, which controls hunting season for most waterfowl and prohibits the killing of a lot of other stuff (though not pigeons) and can be seen here (sorry don't know how to make pretty links)

Then there are your local and state hunting regs which typically control things like open seasons, how close to a road you can hunt, legal methods of hunting for different game species, bag limits, possesion limits etc. For example it is not legal to leg trap most mammals in many states, nor is it legal to shoot anything from your car, typically hunt within a mile of the road or fish in closed waters.

Then there are health concerns. A lot of things you mentioned are apex predators and therefore will bio-accumulate toxins: crows, seagulls, coyotes. Might not be a problem, but it might. If you ate the liver out of an urban waterfowl you might get selenium poisoning, eels bioaccumulate metals to astonishing degrees, seagulls occasionally just die of toxin overload etc. Filter feeders are another iffy one: you can find zebra mussels most anywhere but I'd not recommend eating them in urban areas.

Some species are protected. These are usually the most delicious ones like buffalo, salmon, striped bass, turtles, snakes and frogs.

Some species carry diseases: trich-o-mansomethingorother, squirrels have a Mad Cow like brain disease, badgers carry TB and I think possums do too, even rabbits can have some nasty transmissable disease although I can't remember what it is right now. Birds in the cities are probably more likely to have West Nile or avian flus.
posted by fshgrl at 7:58 PM on October 25, 2005

Turns out that students at BC's University of Victoria are chowing down on campus rabbits.

also, i just discovered that in Opera, dragging a bookmark from the bookmarks panel to a textbox inserts the URL. too damn cool!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:36 AM on October 26, 2005

You might need to consider the kosher/hallal angle, too.
posted by fish tick at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2005

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