Let Them Eat Rats  

Posted by Big Gav

Raj Patel of "Stuffed and Starved" reports that a state government in India is recommending local residents eat rats to avoid starvation (or "reduce dependence on rice" as they obliquely put it) - Let Them Eat Rats.

Back in the 1990's I lived in a place called Chung King Mansions (the last word being spectacularly inaccurate) in Hong Kong for a while, which had a small collection of Indian restaurants clustered around level 4, which was roughly the height of the surrounding rubbish mounds. My friends and I often used to speculate about the source of the meat hidden by large amounts of curry sauce, with the resident rat population frequently falling under suspicion. If our darkest fears were correct, I can't say the taste was all that bad...

I think what disturbs me about this Reuters news piece even more than the Let them Eat Mud story that I posted about mud cake consumption in Haiti, is that the government in Bihar, India, is actively promoting it.

Just to be clear. It's official government policy for people to eat rats. (The full story here and below.)

It's a useful case to ruminate over. What is it, after all, that's so appalling here? Clearly the idea of eating vermin is, by definition, distasteful, but what a culture decides is edible, and what is pestilent, isn't written in our DNA. As we used to chorus in Sociology 101: "it's a social construct". Some think pork is as dirty as rat. Some think that by renaming pigeons as 'squab', they'll taste better.

That people are eating rodents isn't the only thing that should turn our stomachs, though. The Bihari government endorsement of rat-eating is simultaneously a sign of defeat. They've given up on fighting poverty so that people can afford to eat. Given up on trying to protect the grain harvests with decent infrastructure. Given up, almost, on their people.

In a time of scarce resources and rising hunger, rat-eating becomes a handy technical fix. After all, what is rat-eating but a technology to increase nutrition and eliminate the use of pesticides and the need for secure grain storage?

And if we're appalled by this, and we should be, then how different is this from the logic that justifies Golden Rice? After all, doesn't golden rice become useful only when governments have resigned themselves to the fact that the only thing people can afford to eat is rice? That the healthcare system can't be resuscitated? That the best technology to fix the problem is one that doesn't address it?

2 comments

I hadn't come across this news till reading your post.

As you say, it's appalling that the poverty-stricken are reduced to this but at the same time, I've never tasted rat to know what it's like. (It might be delicious. Let's hope so!) I've never tasted frog, dog, or horse either, but those are all perfectly edible food sources in various parts of the world.

What's even more appalling is the amount of food we in the west throw out every single day while these people are reduced to eating vermin. That means our vermin, eating our waste, are eating better than millions of people in India. What a wonderful world!

Good post, Big Gav.

Steve N. Lee
author of eco-blog http://www.lionsledbysheep.com
and suspense thriller 'What if...?' http://www.steve-n-lee.com

Thanks Steve.

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