11 August 2008

Fry me kangaroo down

Kangaroo is the perfect meat for environmentally aware Australian carnivores.
Roo meat

Credit: Andrew Lee

It’s just meat, okay? Get over it. If you’re really green at heart, and not a vegetarian, then you ought to think about eating Skippy.

“What?” I hear you say. “Throw a treasured native species on the barbie? How can that be environmentally correct?”

If you think about it, that question is a no-brainer for any conservation-minded person. First, kangaroos are not farmed (and may never be). They’re wild animals, perfectly suited to the dry and unforgiving Australian environment.

Unlike our imported domesticated livestock – such as sheep, cows, pigs – they don’t breed like clockwork every year regardless of the availability of the resources they need to survive. When times are tough, they wait until things get better before producing more offspring.

Not so fast

They haven’t been selected to grow fast and fat, and they are superb at conserving energy and water, so they don’t need to eat or drink prolifically like those European interlopers. They don’t leave wet sloppy piles of dung for flies to breed in, just nice, dry grassy pellets. No flies on them.

They don’t have hard hooves either, so they don’t compact the all-important humus layer of the soil, or cut up riverbanks and leave them vulnerable to erosion.

All of which means they put less pressure on fragile ecosystems, especially in the agricultural zones that have suffered so much damage since European settlement.

Second, only four of the sixty or so species of kangaroos are harvested: the ones that have boomed in numbers as a result of our provision of more pastures and watering holes. It is we who created the kangaroo population imbalance; and harvesting them helps set it right.

Conservation through sustainable use

Third, and most important, is that the kangaroo industry is an excellent working example of the concept of conservation through sustainable use (or CSU). To maintain kangaroo numbers for sustainable harvesting, you need to maintain kangaroo habitat. Roos like a nice patch of bush to shelter from the midday sun, for example, so maintaining lots of them means maintaining lots of bush.

In turn, that bush is a vital habitat and refuge for many other plants and animals – the countless birds, bugs, butterflies, native flowers, shrubs and bushes that make up a healthy bushland, not to mention the far greater numbers of unseen but vital micro-organisms that make everything tick.

Instead of bland monocultures of pasture (often sown with invasive exotic grasses), CSU delivers a more diverse, more robust ecosystem that can better withstand fires, droughts and climate change.

Everyone wins, including landholders, because resources that are sustainably harvested from natural ecosystems not only have greater ecological resilience but economic resilience as well.

Lean and healthy

Then there’s the health benefits of kangaroo meat: it’s very lean – it contains less than two per cent fat, about forty per cent of which is polyunsaturated. So a regular diet of roo meat can significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. And, of course, it’s free-range and organic, and roos have not been dosed with growth-promoters, veterinary products and pesticides.

Trawl the web and you’ll find plenty of scaremongering about the alleged dangers kangaroos and the disease toxoplasmosis. The disease is spread by cats (and does great harm to native animals) and if meat of any kind is contaminated with cat faeces, it can transmit toxoplasmosis. But there have been no medically documented cases of toxoplasmosis being transmitted by eating kangaroo. Proper hygiene and cooking is, of course, called for with any kind of meat.

As for animal welfare issues, an animal that dies unexpectedly from a single bullet suffers far less trauma and stress than one aggressively herded up, trucked to market and processed through an abattoir. All kangaroos die of something.

Oh, and forget that nonsense about Australians being alone in eating their national symbol: Canadians scoff down their maple syrup and the French relish their coq au vin.

Did I mention that a juicy barbecued roo loin fillet is delicious? Cook it hot but keep it rare. It’s a yummy way to do your bit for the planet.

Bob Beale is a writer and the co-author of Going Native, a guide to utilising Australia’s natural resources sustainably.

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