Posted by Rebecca Willis, January 16th 2012
“We’ve sold out of kudu” is not a phrase I’d ever expected to hear in a shop in a sleepy Cotswold market town. It sounded more like a Monty Python sketch. But that’s definitely what the butcher said. So he ran us through some other options. In the absence of kudu - a handsome antelope with spiralling horns that I remember from a safari in Kenya – we could choose from kangaroo steaks, python fillets, ostrich steaks, buffalo burgers, crocodile tails, zebra steaks, bison steaks and wildebeest steaks.
We had in fact seen all these listed on the blackboard outside, and decided it must be a joke. Then curiosity had drawn us in, and there it all was - frozen, admittedly, and doubtless accompanied by a hefty slice of food miles. Except for the kudu, of course.
It turns out I'm behind the curve. I’ve seen celebrity chefs cook ostrich, for example, but I’d assumed they were just attention seeking; likewise the sort of extreme eating programmes that are screened where the presenters chow down on road kill and snakes: what you might call survival cuisine. But there’s also a book called “Exotic Meat: from Antelope to Zebra”, published 18 months ago. So I feel obliged to ask, what is this really about?
It could be that it tastes good – I’m not qualified to say, as I don’t eat meat. But my instincts tell me it’s more. Perhaps it’s a response to boredom with our usual diet, or showing off – to wow the dinner guests as pineapples once did. It could equally be a kind of culinary colonialism, an attempt to reassert our dominance at least on the plate.
My best guess, though, is that it speaks to the primal hunter in us: life in the West is so safe and tame that the call of the wild has a loud appeal. Even if these meats are farmed, even if they are packed in plastic and the only weapon required to bring ‘em down is a sharp-edged credit card, their very names carry a whiff of the wild frontier and its attendant dangers.
The rest of my family does eat meat. So we bought some buffalo burgers and swaggered back to our waiting stallions. That's to say, we took them to the car.
Rebecca Willis is Intelligent Life's associate editor, and a former travel editor of Vogue