There was a lone sheep on the grass verge as we drove to the Coromandel for Easter. It was on a steep, windy and narrow part of the road. "He won't last long," I said, imagining that he might be accidentally hit and (intentionally) roasted for Sunday lunch.
Our cupboards were bare so we headed to the nearest New World the following day to stock up, not realising what almost everyone else surely knew: supermarkets are shut on Good Friday.
So my thoughts turned again to that escaped mutton plus the two squashed possums we'd just seen on the road between Kuaotunu and Whitianga - and I wondered: is roadkill fair game? I guess it depends on your levels of hunger, destituteness, squeamishness and your culinary inventiveness - not to mention whether it's lawful and hygienic.
Acceptance of the controversial art of "Roadkill Cuisine" seems to be growing. The English subject of Experience: I eat road kill dishes up fox lasagne, frog stir-fry and owl bolognese. He claims his habits are "rooted in respect for the environment" and, indeed, there is something satisfying in the thought of putting a carcass that would otherwise be wasted to good use. It's the ultimate in recycling.
Is it Safe to Eat Roadkill? ponders the Smithsonian magazine which says that "what you find by the side of the road may expose you to pathogens such as E. Coli or tularemia, a bacterial infection common in rabbits and other rodents. Furthermore, a collision with a car can cause an animal such extensive internal damage ... that it is unsuitable for consumption."
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Interestingly, dining on roadkill is (broadly) approved of by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: "If people must eat animal carcasses, roadkill is a superior option to the neatly shrink-wrapped plastic packages of meat in the supermarket. Eating roadkill is healthier for the consumer than meat laden with antibiotics, hormones and growth stimulants, as most meat is today. It is also more humane in that animals killed on the road were not castrated, dehorned, or debeaked without anesthesia, did not suffer the trauma and misery of transportation in a crowded truck in all weather extremes, and did not hear the screams and smell the fear of the animals ahead of them on the slaughter line. Perhaps the animals never knew what hit them."
The Roadkill Cafe, which I suspect is some online prank rather than a genuine establishment, offers such rhyming delicacies as chunk of skunk, smidgen pigeon, road toad, rigor mortis tortoise, smear of deer and cheap sheep. Its roadkill rules are very sensible: "1. Freshness is always the rule (if it's still there on your way home, it's too late). 2. Semi-squashed is much better than squashed; anything clobbered by an 18-wheeler is absolutely undesirable. 3. Blacktop surfaces are much preferred over dirt roads; concrete is a gourmet's delight."
Funnily enough, recently deceased roadkill ticks all the trendy boxes that modern day foodies prize: it's local, sustainable, fresh, free range and (presumably) organic. So, let's return to my initial dilemma. Taking the sheep would have been wrong even if we had hit it because it clearly belongs to someone else.
And, scraping those two flattened possums off the road would only have been okay if we had seen them hit so we knew they were freshly killed. Still, harvesting roadkill isn't for the fainthearted and, from a health and safety viewpoint alone, should be approached with caution - unless, of course, you have aspirations of becoming roadkill yourself.
Have you ever sampled roadkill cuisine? What was it like? Would you try it if the opportunity arose or are you flat against it?