A couple of weeks ago I visited the Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra, Western Australia. It was a wonderful experience where I got to squeal with delight as I cuddled joeys and watched them happily chugging away at their bottles. There was little Norris, the 6-month-old wallaby who thought he was a big red with how much he liked to eat, and fussy princess Raynee, a 7-month-old euro who decided that eating in the daylight wasn’t for her. In short, they all were adorable and melted my heart. Then Kane and I went home to eat kangaroo korma.
I know some of you will be horrified right now, after all, how could I? How could I cuddle the babies then eat the daddies? Well put down your pitchforks, disperse the mob, and I’ll tell you how.
From Animal Lover to Pescatarian
You see, I have always been an animal lover. From as early as I can remember I had stuffed animals, not baby dolls. When my little sister was born that did not change. There were no hurried baby doll purchases to mimic the real baby that just came into my life, instead I cut holes in diapers to fit their tails through. I guess you could say I was an early adopter of the fur baby trend.
Then at 11 years old, the barn I rode horses at adopted an orphaned calf, Penelope. All of us horse-crazed pre-teens would fight for a chance to hold Penelope’s bottle while she ambled happily along after us. I had never really known cattle up close before and, now, little Penelope was working her way into all our hearts. Then someone made a hamburger joke.
I responded by, at 11, making it my New Year’s Resolution to never eat beef again. I succeeded surprisingly well for a stubborn pre-teen girl and after that resolution it took a decade before I would taste beef again. Later, at 13, I would experiment with cutting out all meat except fish (their eyes freaked me out and just didn’t inspire the same anthropomorphism that big round calf eyes did). I figured that if I could pull off pescatarianism while traveling for a week on the 8th grade field trip to Washington D.C. that I could do it long term.
By the time I made it to university I was a pro at being pescatarian. I knew how to order at restaurants, I had read all the books (Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, etc) and seen all the movies (Food Inc., Super-Size Me, etc.), and I knew the subtle guilt speech directed at any meat eater who asked why I just ordered the chicken salad without chicken (just kidding, I hope I wasn’t too pretentious).
Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Meat
So, what happened? I got diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at 20. PCOS is a collection of symptoms tied to hormonal imbalances in menstruating women. PCOS can cause cystic acne, irregular periods, weight gain, insulin resistance, excessive body hair growth, and fertility troubles. I was lucky, my PCOS troubles were limited to irregular periods and the horrible acne that has plagued me since the infamous picture day zit that made an appearance from 6th grade onward.
However, when my doctor told me that I would not likely be able to have children I cried my eyes out on a bench on the University of California, Davis quad. I had never really given much thought to children, I was only 20 after all, but to have someone take it away the possibility like that hurt more than I can say. My doctor (who I later learned had no right to tell me something like that as women with PCOS have children quite often) gave me no hope. She said going on the Pill was my only option, that I would have this for life, that there was nothing else I could do. So, I did what any good nerd in crisis would do, I researched.
I read anything I could find online, in the medical journals at my university library, and eventually stumbled upon Alisa Vitti’s Woman Code. The book blew my mind. After being told I had no hope Alisa was giving me options. As a medical student suffering from PCOS, Alisa Vitti was frustrated with the lack of research into this female specific problem (for the longest time most doctors were only white men so we have hundreds of pills for floppy dicks, but very limited research into women’s menstrual issues) and started her own research.
What she came to is that through diet some women can control their PCOS. The key is a high fat, high protein, low sugar, and low carb diet. It makes sense when you think about it, hormones are fat soluble and highly sensitive to changes in blood sugar (I won’t get into the nitty gritty of glucagon and insulin here, but if you want to read more here is a good article). Alisa found that by focusing on keeping her blood sugar constant and stopping the peaks and crashes common to a high sugar/carb, low fat/protein diet her symptoms improved.
My biggest take away from reading Woman Code was that my current diet, the high carb, low fat diet of an Italian American vegetarian, was the absolute worst possible diet for PCOS. I needed to change something, so I decided, for health reasons, to start eating meat again.
Within a year of reintroducing meat into my diet, cutting dairy, and drastically cutting back my carb consumption (this was the hardest for me as I am a bread addict), my acne was the best it has been in my life, my periods were normalizing, and I felt great.
Now, I know this is a long introduction of my health issues for a post about why I eat kangaroo, but I promise I’ll get there, just stick with me here, this bit is important.
Why I Gave Up Meat in the First Place
All the books I read about the factory farming industry in the US made me sick. The human health, environmental health, and animal welfare issues that this type of farming raises are horrendous. From the eight chickens crammed into desk draw sized cages to lay the eggs for our omelettes to the dangerous misuse of antibiotics in our food animals, everything about this industry made me want to bring it down. But how would one teenage girl bring down the predominate food production system in one of the largest countries on Earth? By starting her one woman crusade not to support it by refusing to eat meat. Unfortunately, this crusade was hurting my health so I needed to figure out another way to protest our mass production of meat.
It took me a long while to realize that cutting out almost all meat in response to one type of bad meat production is a little bit like refusing to drive any car because Hummers exist. It’s an effective protest, but a bit extreme. I had never really given any thought to the middle ground, but now with my PCOS diagnosis, I realized that’s where I needed to be and that’s how I have found that kangaroo meat is the most ethical meat I can eat.
Ethical Meat Consumption
To occupy this new middle ground on the meat consumption spectrum I had to rethink what ethical meat eating meant to me. Yes, the animal must die. Death is a given in eating meat and the part of meat consumption that most animal activists get mired on. The problem with this focus for me is that we all must die. Death is not just a given in eating meat, but a given in life. I realized that I have no problem with the fact that an animal must die for me to eat, but that I have a problem with the life that animal was given, or denied.
Factory farms afford animals horrible sub-creature lives. They are abused from the moment they are born to the moment they are killed and, to me, this is not right. Is there not a better way to raise our meat animals? Why does the fact that they must die, mean they cannot live?
So, I decided that, to me, ethical meat production must afford the animals raised a good, healthy life; be done in a way that is healthy for the Earth, for humanity, and for the animals themselves; and, finally, have the animals killed in a quick, cruelty-free manner. Now the question was just where to find this ethical meat.
Traditional farms, those that factory farms are putting out of business, produce ethical meat. 4-H children learning about life and death from the goats, sheep, cattle, and pigs that they raise produce ethical meat. Hunters who hunt sustainably produce ethical meat. There are many ways to produce ethical meat, the problem is just that it is often expensive. This is where kangaroos come onto the scene.
Kangaroo Meat Consumption in Australia
Kangaroo is a traditional food source for many indigenous and non-indigenous Australian’s alike. Kangaroo sold commercial in Australia must be hunted by professional harvesters following the Federal Government’s Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes.
Only 3% of the 50 million strong population of kangaroos in Australia is taken annually and only 6 of the 48 species of macropods can be harvested, 4 types of kangaroos on the main land and 2 species of wallabies in Tasmania. In 2013, a male only policy was implemented to decrease the number of orphaned joeys ending up at places like the Kangaroo Haven. This has dropped the number of females taken from 30% of the overall take to only 5% last year.
The big red kangaroo, one of the most commonly taken species in the kangaroo harvest, has a conservation status of Least Concern, the same conservation status of pigeons in the US. The government harvest, which was has been going on since 1959, makes sure that kangaroo populations are kept healthy, that the roos are killed quickly and humanely, and that the harvest is sustainable for years to come.
I feel that eating kangaroo in Australia is one of the most ethical meat consumption choices to make because the animal lived a completely free, wild life before being hunted; that due to this natural life there are no hormones or excessive antibiotics in the meat; and that due to the healthy population numbers this is a sustainable use of a natural resource.
What Difference is There Between a Calf and a Joey?
Some of you still may be appalled that I would eat an animal as cute as a kangaroo. All I have to say to that is, are cows not cute? And if they aren’t cute to you, does it matter? An animal does not deserve a healthy, cruelty free life because they are cute. We all deserve a healthy, cruelty free lives and while that might be impossible to attain planet-wide, it can’t hurt to keep trying.
Eating meat for humans is as natural as it is for cats and dogs. What is not natural is raising our meat like it does not have a life attached to it. Every steak, hamburger, and korma was once a life and we need to respect that sacrifice by trying our best to eat meat ethically and to support meat production methods that we believe are making the world better for all creatures.