biology zoology blog benno meyer rochow rats as food

Rats on the Plate and on your Palate

“If you can’t beat them, eat them!”

When I lived in Japan, I knew I had mice in my apartment. They had found my chocolate and had torn holes into the cover and eaten some: you could see their toothmarks. I also saw some quite regularly when I happened to enter the kitchen at night and switched on the light. But it weren’t the mice that made me seek a different flat, it was when I had rats in my bedroom! These clever, but not exactly charming rodents, must have resided behind the cupboard in the wall and on four occasions traps I had placed around my bedroom caught one of them. There are people who love rats and keep them as pets and in many parts of Asia credit is given to the rats’ intelligence, their adaptability and hardiness and even temples (e.g., the Karni Mata) dedicated to rats exist in India, because Hindus believe that a rat had helped to carry Lord Ganesh around the world. And there are many people who’d claim that there was nothing more delicious than rat meat on your plate, rat fried or roasted, or rat as a stew or casserole.

In particular people with a European cultural background regard rats as dirty, sneaky little creatures that enter houses to steal food at night and transmit diseases (e.g., bubonic plague comes to mind). The age-old struggle between rats and humans in Europe has found its reflection in numerous fairy tales, stories and even derogatory idioms. But forest or field rats aren’t the ones that live in our sewers and they usually do not transmit diseases especially if cooked or fried thoroughly. In large numbers they do, however, damage crops and to get rid of them poisons, so-called rodenticides, are widely used. Poisoned and uncollected dead rats can contaminate the environment, may be fed on by other animals and enter the food chain in various ways. So, is there a better way to reduce rat populations and somehow use them? I have carried out a study on rats as food and found that there are numerous people in African and Asian countries (possibly Central and South American countries as well: in Peru for instance guinea pigs are delicacies), who appreciate rats as food, as rats belong to the rodent family and rodents have played a role as protein suppliers since time immemorial. All rats are prolific breeders: up to 10 young in a litter, weaned after 3 weeks and sexually mature after 3 months and ready for another generation. After approximately 2 years a rat’s life is over (if the poor thing isn’t caught and destroyed earlier).

Given the need, on the one hand, to increase food production by 70 % in order to “feed the world in 2050” and on the other to drastically reduce ruminant meat consumption like beef, mutton and lamb to avoid further global warming, earlier calls for rats as “minilivestock” to be farmed in the future now have to be taken seriously. A rat weighing about 300-grams is said to contain a food value of about 650 kcal, stemming from approximately 16-20% of protein, and 10% grams of fat. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the meat of a rat and that of more traditional meat animals, but the fat of wild rats does contain higher amounts of unsaturated fatty acids and a healthy amount of minerals including iron and zinc. Rodent meat generally is by no means inferior to other meats and, prepared in the right way, according to many rat-consuming enthusiasts, even tastier than conventional meats. The question therefore arises: why not use the abundance of rats in a positive way? It reduces the pressure on traditional domestic animals, especially ruminants that serve humans as protein suppliers, it helps to get rid of unwanted rats and it leads to less use of contaminating rodenticides. And there’s no need to “see the rat on your plate” for it can be inside a sausage (you don’t see the pig in your hotdog, do you?).

Of course rats wouldn’t be pleased with such a development and Remy (the smart rat that helped the cook to prepare tasty dishes in the entertaining movie “Ratatouille”) would argue that the French dish “ratatouille” is actually meatless and based on vegetables and not rats. Moreover, beans, lentils, split peas etc. contain more protein per weight than any rat (or other meat) does. So, there you are: “ratatouille traditionelle, avec des légumes frais” or perhaps “ratatouille avec de la viande de rat” et naturellement une bouteille de Château de Seguin Bordeaux Supérieur of red wine. A votre santé !

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2019.
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