Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Quote of the day - squirrel edition

"You'd need one and a half squirrels for a main course; that's why we are serving it as starters." 

Full marks to the sous-chef at River Cottage Canteen, where diners with twitchy sensibilities need not apply. This was a one-off,  but there are plans to add squirrel to the menu again in the Autumn, when they will be nice and fat.

It's no more than you would expect of an establishment under the aegis of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (or, as my mother calls him, 'the bloke who eats dead owls') and, what's more, there's a sound ecological reason for doing it, these being grey interlopers rather than our native red ones.

The long-overdue investigation into what goes into burgers and ready meals shows just how detached the general population has become from the source of its meat. For those who never shop at a  butcher's, there is no apparent connection between the packaged ready-meal or takeaway and a real animal; it's something many consumers prefer to ignore completely.

This is, of course, largely a product of urban living and a sentimentalised view of the animal kingdom; I shall never forget the horrified reaction of a town-bred family friend who arrived unexpectedly one day and was offered rabbit curry for dinner (unorthodox, I know, but pies and casseroles do get boring after a while).

But I suspect that we are now seeing a generation grow up who just don't care. 'Watership Down' and the like have been largely forgotten (or dismissed as too middle-class to be allowed) - in any case, few children read much these days - and, where 1990s teenagers embraced vegetarianism along with all things green, their modern-day counterparts are more likely to say "Whatever" and tuck into a burger in front of the X-box.

Having been forced by recent news stories to consider the source of their meat, perhaps people may start to question whether it really matters that their food once had big eyes or a fluffy tail, especially if it's cheap, low-fat and sustainable into the bargain.

The newspapers have doubtless published this non-story in the hope of sparking a storm of outrage from the fluffy brigade amid accusations of  'a wildlife massacre' (it's happened before: 'Another Slice of Squirrel, Julia?'), but, taking into account the misleading meat labels and unidentifiable imported ingredients in processed food, they might just find it's the start of something new.


  1. And after all, they are free range! :)

  2. Have to try a grey squirrel. Something different.

  3. Very true, Julia - though I'd avoid the urban ones if I were you.

    JH, the 'wildlife massacre' quote dates from their appearance on the shelves of Budgen so there should be some around. However, they won't have entered the mainstream until M&S are doing squirrel-based ready meals, and I don't think Middle England is quite ready for that.

  4. One squirrel does nicely for a starter. According to Pippa (my greyhound).

  5. TJ, welcome! If the late Tavern hound was anything to go by, anything does nicely for a starter; in fact, given the perennial hope of extra food, everything they eat is effectively hors d'oeuvres.


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