Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Return to Native Consumption

The transition had been slow. It began with Japan most probably. A couple of big corporate catering restaurants serving it as a delicacy. Their fine dining experience of a rare and bloody steak on fine china, a delicate yet decisive jab at its tenderness by a genuine silver fork in a dimly lit room with attentive yet demure waiters and living flower arrangements - was as foreign to Australian bush dwellers, as the spectacle of a flyblown kangaroo stinking in a highway table drain was to the Japanese. No, kangaroos belonged in photographs taken at the airport, accompanied by little plastic Australian flags, or as stuffed toys made in China. Or, as already noted, in one of those exquisite restaurants as a delicacy.

A 'roo shooter's dog paces the dusty yard, waiting as his master hacks off the matted tail of a scrubber and tosses it with a careless thud and a little puff of brown dust, at his feet. Better than emu. That really gave them the runs. Good for dog meat it was – and that was about all. Some of the Blackfellas ate it, but you could hardly count that. And everyone knew that kangaroo was full of worms. In fact everybody in town seemed to know somebody who had pulled a metre long tape worm out of a perfectly healthy looking carcass during a cull. Dozens of kangaroos lay productively letting off decay like a baked chicken let off its baked-chicken-ness, in paddocks, massacred and left to the elements. Great mobs of caviar, seeping, fallen, all spoiled furs and fly-crusted death, back into earth, wasted.

And then it started, mainly in the cities, of course. The queasiness of the educated middle-class subsided, slowly at first, as they were drawn to the delicacy of it all. It helped that some clever marketing person had begun labelling the meat as “environmentally friendly”. That would unburden them of any moral judgements on the matter, and in case they were forced to feign the act of actually thinking for themselves, they could pull out a quote from some notable environmental scientists – Archer and Beale or the like – and hold it up defensively against the moral judgements which might fly at them like hot wind. Some of the more hardcore 'tree-hugger' types were more difficult to win over. The idea of eating something they had placed in some kind of Australian Utopian Garden of Eden was sacrilegious. Hell, even the red meat eaters were lower down in the food chain of environmental vandalism than that. Having yet to retrieve the kangaroo from its museum case it still tasted of formaldehyde, or temperature controlled oxygen, or maybe even polyester fibres manufactured in a Chinese factory. Eating kangaroo was wrong.

But slowly, it happened. And don't imagine it wasn't without its hiccups, because there were plenty. The 2037 bombing of the Walgett kangaroo farm was just one example. Over two thousand kangaroos pulverised into fresh 'blood-and-bone' as a militant animal rights activist throws twenty kilograms worth of plastic explosive into the middle of the holding paddock and detonates it using a hand held GPS. In that one act of agricultural terrorism or misguided euthanasia, he sent pieces of kangaroo flying so far that the highway looked like a 'roo works floor. And that was at least four hundred metres from the blast. No B-double truck ever created that much mess.

They left the Aboriginal farms alone. It was far more powerful and less damaging in a public relations kind of way to destroy the property of 'the man', the big fat, money hungry, capitalist, white man. And besides, they seemed more comfortable leaving the Aboriginal people in a museum cabinet with the kangaroos they harvested. It was easier. Less incongruous even. And then there were the worldwide Kangaroo Rallies, where people from countries whose wildlife lived only in storybooks, natural history museums, and zoos spoke out against the evil of eating native animals, the absolute and horrific immorality of consuming something so bloody cute and harmless looking. The cold-blooded murder of Skippy. At one point five out of the eight major kangaroo export markets had boycotted Australian kangaroo – well any kangaroo really. Japan was not one of them. Secretly, eating 'roo became an even bigger status symbol, like shooting a white elephant or an endangered snow leopard in a designer safari suit whilst sipping on Dom Perignon, and so the world elite paid dearly to continue smacking their lips to the flavoursome temptations of a variety of Skippy derived delicacies.

That was all history now. Throwing a slab of skippy on the barbie today was as natural as lamb chops or steaks had been all those years ago. Yes, it had become decidedly unfashionable to eat non-native. The marketing term 'organic', in the meat industry at least, had lost almost all of its currency after the contained 'natural harvest system' became industry standard. It hadn't always been that way. Earlier on, multinational conglomerates had attempted to squeeze some extra profit out of the industry by segmenting large scale properties into cattle-style feed lots where they pumped kangaroo full of growth hormones and super-foods. As if in defiance the kangaroos, while growing faster and bigger, produced a meat which scientific testing proved to be nutrient deficient. It also had an unattractive grain to it, and a bloated, pimply texture that no amount of nutritional meddling could solve. It was an though nature, finally, had spoken.

They abandoned their enterprises and reinvested in a chain of fast food Skippy outlets in the USA, where they successfully saw kangaroo become a fast food staple in almost every continent. In fact the native food eating phenomenon was so powerful that other native animals were slowly making their way, for better or worse, into gourmet menus, lunch boxes, and deep fryers, worldwide. 'Skippy & Friends' was born. And not long after, came a string of franchises – 'Skippy & Friends Burgers', 'Skippy & Friends Kebabs', 'Skippy & Friends Sandwich and Salad Bars'. It was limited only by a fast food imagination. By the year 2084 every McDonalds had a 'Skippy & Friends' Eco-Bar where people could purchase the 'new health food' – environmentally sustainable meats and native foods imported mainly from industry world leader, Australia.

Knowledge, sent underground, shunned and shamed, now re-emerged – in this new climate, popping up through the soil like seedlings, while its keepers battled alongside a new movement for their rightful share in its profit.

In what was really quite a radical shift, people suddenly cared about the context of production in a deeper, more holistic sense. The new eco wasn't about eating organically farmed produce. It was much more intelligent than that. Extinction Credits became the new currency in the environmental costing game. Based on the same concept of the only partially successful carbon crediting systems of earlier times, extinction credits were serious business. Products were measured against the balance of habitat destruction, and species extinction. The new catch cry was 'extinction risk management' and the radical plan was to commodify native animals and their habitats in such a way that their survival was intrinsically linked to their reinsertion into the national food chain. Large scale breeding programs were established for endangered Australian species; once they were no longer endangered they were introduced into the native meat market.

Earlier superficial attempts to represent an Australian cultural identity through fauna and flora were seen in the replacement of the land-scouring Ebola Virus-riddled symbol of the European rabbit, with the native Bilby, usually moulded in chocolate or machine stitched into a cheap plush toy in an overseas factory. These days the consumerist public didn't just present quaint reinterpretations of the European Easter fable by giving the kids a confectionery Bilby – they threw the real thing on the grill at the family BBQ as well.

Beef, lamb, and chicken became swear words. Asking for them was akin to asking for a white rhino horn, offensive, vulgar, unethical. Australia's landscape was being gently massaged into a living entity as it became repopulated with native fauna and flora. The ravenous eyes of toy company marketers and traditional tourism operators were being replaced by new appetites. People consumed their landscape – literally. The country had all but annihilated its 'English garden' curse.

Somewhere on a lonely parody of an outback road a traveller's windshield is pelted with a machine-gun shower of gravel, as a truck driver runs critically low on no-doze. Fishtail, skid, and fishtail, on and off the cracking road edge. Crystal light, broken beer bottles, stirred up earth. A smaller vehicle would spin. A mob watch curiously from the scrub beyond the road, buoyant, ready to take off in a great mobile formation of tail and back. Bounding away.

The museum cabinet had produced cracks too central now, too distracting, and too numerous to ignore. That tempered glass, fingerprinted and dividing as is was, had been shattered. A throng of patrons crowd in on the mixture of formaldehyde scented dirt and final shards. Hands reach forth, unable to acknowledge the space between in quite the same way, seeking only to touch what it had held. Not minding the sharp edged glass in the reach toward the perfectly embalmed half-life which swam amongst it.

Angela Sidoti © 2011

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