In tough economic times, people come up with creative ways to save money. BBC News reports that in the U.S. and Britain the hunt for cheap sustenance has led some people to try a ubiquitous but overlooked meat — squirrel. (See a deep fried squirrel.) Is the common gray squirrel the "perfect austerity dish"? Here's a quick guide:
Are people really eating more squirrel meat?
Yes, according to some avid squirrel hunters. During hard times, many Americans have rediscovered a taste for squirrel meat, says William Hovey Smith, a hunter from Georgia. In London, a few specialty grocers started stocking squirrel meat earlier this year, and sales have been brisk. One Budgens supermarket said it sold up to 15 squirrels a week this summer.
What does squirrel taste like?
Like chicken, of course. At least that's how Jackson Landers, who blogs at The Locavore Hunter, describes the delicate pink meat. "Cook the squirrel with the chicken comparison in mind," he says, "and you will be most satisfied with the results." Smith, the hunter from Georgia, prefers his family's recipe for squirrel stew, which he says has "a very distinctly sweet flavor." Andrew Thornton, who started selling the meat at his London store after customers requested it, says squirrel is "lovely," and tastes a "bit like rabbit."
How is this going over with animal lovers?
Not well. Animal rights groups say it's immoral to harm the mild-mannered rodents, much less eat them. One British group, Viva, accused Budgens of trying to profit from a "wildlife massacre." But supporters of the practice say it's not cruel. And squirrel is low-fat and free-range. Eating it, says Katie Connolly at BBC News, "raises fewer of the ethical and environmental questions that industrially farmed meats do."
Is this something new?
Not at all. In the U.S., especially in the South, the tradition goes way back, and only started becoming less common in recent decades. "Squirrels were a staple in the Alabama diet for decades as late as the 1940s," says Michael C. Bolton at AL.com, and "the squirrel was the No. 1 hunted species in Alabama until 1972," when deer took over the top spot. "We've eaten it since colonial days," says Smith. "In fact sometimes, during hard times, a lot of people primarily subsisted from squirrel meat, just for want of anything better."