Faced with soaring food prices and plummeting grain supplies, officials in India are encouraging the populace to eat rats. That’s right, rats.
Fans of “Fear Factor” probably just lost their breakfast after reading that sentence. One FF viewer even sued NBC after watching the episode. Granted, that incident involved the consumption of pureed rats, hair and bones and all. But even intact the rodent is considered gruesome fare in America, so much so that restaurants are closed down when rat infestations are discovered.
Now, I like to think of myself as a adventurous gastronome. I’ve munched on preying mantis, guzzled down goat innards, licked my lips after eating lamb cheeks and once even worked on a wad of whale baleen. Though I’ve never done dog meat, I couldn’t consider consuming a cat. Other than that, I have what we’ll just kindly refer to as a cast-iron stomach. (No doubt a history of drinking martinis has somehow contributed to that fact.)
So I can’t honestly say I’d reject rat right from the start. But rats that have been running around on the streets of India, a country with some of the world’s worst industrial pollution? Every year, India’s filth-contaminated drinking water kills people, and it was just over a decade ago that rat-borne bubonic and pneumonic plague wiped out scores in the country’s rural areas. When it comes to eating the little buggers, I have to admit I’m a bit too squeamish to consider it.
Then again, I live in a country where food is so abundant that we pay money to gyms, personal trainers, nutritionists and physicians to help us work off the effects of over-consumption. We can’t begin to imagine losing 50% of the country’s grain supply as India has thanks to rats.
The good news is that an Indian-born researcher at the University of Florida may have discovered a vaccine against both bubonic and pneumonic plague. Rats given an injection of the vaccine survived exposure without any traces of the plague remaining in their bodies. The vaccine is being developed in oral form as well which means, depending on the result of human trials, that an inexpensive yet effective way to prevent plague may be just around the corner.
If that’s the case then perhaps the Indian government’s recommendation to “let them eat rats” is an innovative and responsible one in the face of the country’s food crisis. Come to think of it, perhaps it’s something Americans will get less squeamish about as our own food prices continue to soar. After all, I hear they’re pretty good in rat enchiladas or shepherd’s pie