One for the ‘potential‘ list – George Wilson and Melanie Edwards of Australian Wildlife Services have just published a paper in the Early View section of Conservation Letters entitled Native wildlife on rangelands to minimize methane and produce lower-emission meat: kangaroos versus livestock.I am particularly moved by this one for several reasons: (1) it is one of the first really good policy pieces on why we should be eating more kangaroos and fewer sheep and cattle in Australia, (2) it moves past the ridiculous welfare issues that have prevented people from embracing kangaroo harvest in this country, (3) it provides an excellent model for reducing our reliance on non-native livestock for protein worldwide, (4) I love eating macropods (flavour, nutritional value, tenderness – see basic cooking instructions below), and (4) I was responsible for editing the manuscript for publication in Conservation Letters.
Hard-hoofed livestock pastoralism has been the economic backbone of Australia since Europeans first managed to scratch out a living on this harsh land. It has always been a bit of a battle raising largely European-adapted livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) on the driest inhabited continent in the world, but the innovative and persevering Australian cocky has managed to pull it off. However, such livestock pastoralism has been implicated in the extinction of at least 20 mammal species and threatens around 25 % of the plant species listed as endangered in Australia (Wilson & Edwards 2008). It’s also becoming more difficult to raise water-thirsty livestock as our rainfall dwindles with climate change.
Now as Wilson and Edwards point out, there are many carbon-related benefits for switching our protein dependency to kangaroos. The kangaroo’s gut fermentation system produces vastly lower amounts of methane (one of the nasty greenhouse gases responsible for heating up the atmosphere) than livestock rumination, so raising more kangaroos instead of livestock makes good environmental and economic sense under existing and proposed carbon-trading markets.
More from the biodiversity conservation angle, if more Australians replaced at least one meal per week with kangaroo meat (many Australians do not eat kangaroo because it was associated with the diet of poorer immigrants and ex-convicts in our early history; others shun it for iconic or welfare reasons [even though they wouldn't question tucking into a good beef steak or lamb chop]; one often finds kangaroo meat next to or only in the pet meat section of your average supermarket!), our rangelands would be much better off in the long run. In fact, it makes good environmental sense to eat some of the many feral animals that also abound in Australia – feral goats, camels, deer and rabbits. They’re tasty, generally contain less fat than beef or lamb, and a reduction in their population density will have enormous benefits for Australia’s fragile environment. Go on! Eat a roo or a feral today!
P.S. Just for the uninitiated in the fine art of macropod cuisine, the following points may help you make the switch:
- Make sure you dry your cut of meat well prior to cooking (an effective way is to remove it from the plastic covering, dry off both sides with some paper towel, and then place on a plate in the fridge for a couple of hours and cover with a clean tea towel)
- prepare a marinade of red wine, a touch of vinegar, a little olive oil, some treacle, a bay leaf, and a little pepper and salt and soak the meat overnight (preferably), or at least for a couple of hours prior to cooking
- I get the best results using a very hot barbecue grill – heat for a good 20 minutes prior to cooking.
- Cook the meat quickly on high heat (2-4 minutes on each side, maximum). Only turn once.
- Place the cooked meat on a clean plate and cover with aluminium foil for at least 5 minutes
- Slice the rested meat into thin pieces and enjoy with your favourite Cabernet Sauvignon!