Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Road Kill

My friend Dina picks up road kill.

We were out on a drive the other evening when we saw the car in front of us hit a rabbit. We both flinched -- poor little thing! -- and looked quickly to see what had happened. The rabbit had been killed instantly, flung to the side of the road just outside someone's house, its spine broken.

Dina checked her rear view mirror and put on the brakes.

"You can't save it, Dina," I told her. "It's dead."

She gave me an exasperated I know look and got out of the car. I turned and watched as she walked over to where the rabbit lay sprawled over the pavement and picked it up. What the hell?

A man came out of the house. "If you're looking for the car rally, you missed the turn-off," he said helpfully. "It's just before the roundabout, past the petrol station."

"I'm not going to the car rally," she told him. "I'm picking up this rabbit."

The man looked at the rabbit. "It's dead."

"Yes, I know."

"If it's rabbits you're after," the man said, "I've got a lot of 'em. They're a bloody nuisance, they are; they eat everything in my garden. You come back here and help yourself to more rabbits any time." Dina nodded. She has plenty of rabbits in her garden too, but not so conveniently killed as this one.

Holding the rabbit by the hind legs, she turned to go back to the car, but the man called after her: "That for your dog?"

She smiled and I felt my cheeks begin to burn: by this time I had a pretty good idea it wasn't for her spaniel who was sitting there behind me in the car. And I also knew that Dina wouldn't lie -- not even with the dog sitting there in full view, the perfect excuse for someone caught helping herself to road kill. Dina is pathologically truthful: one of those people who tells the truth just for the fun of it, even when she could easily get away with a lie.

The fact is, Dina's road kill salvaging embarrassed me -- just a little. I grew up with a mother who bragged about the horrid house dresses she bought for 35 cents at Value Village Thrift Shop. Who happily recycled jelly jars as glasses and shamelessly solicited the aluminum pie plates of neighbors to use as dishes for our cats. If anything around was going for free, we knew about it and were generally first in line to get our share. And truth to be told, I'm just the same. I love bargains, freely patronize thrift shops, recycle everything I possibly can, and have a compost heap so monstrous and extensive that it gives me nightmares.

But I've never picked up road kill and neither did my family; we were vegetarians.

"No," Dina told the man, "this will be my dinner tonight."

Dina chucked the rabbit into the back of her car and we drove off, the man staring after us.

I don't do road kill, but I found myself wondering -- why not? The animal was freshly and quickly killed, right in front of us. It had been living a free and happy life in the countryside. Who's to say that eating that rabbit is any worse than buying your meat from a supermarket, wrapped up in plastic, all traces of its identity removed? Really, when you think about it, why don't more people pick up road kill?

Later, when Dina kindly described for me the rabbit's internal injuries and the skinning and gutting process, my question was answered.



Brian said...

I see no problem with eating the bunny if it was fresh and you saw it killed (and it was not mashed rabbit. )

I see your problem with the skinning, gutting etc., but that is not something that worries me as I have done such since I was a youth , sometimes up to 50 a day. And vide my Jugging the Dondingalong Hare .

*Economy *: that provides a different emotional context . There was always a conflict in my family's approaches to such or the parallel incidents you mention, a mix of the Depression mentality, where one saved everything that could be saved if it contributed to the family budget, and at the same time a fierce independence and a pride in not letting theneighbours look down on one.

I am never sure how much my own reactions to life have been governed by those parental attitudes; acceptance or revolt are mixed.

Your * burning cheeks * suggest a similar feeling .


Eryl Shields said...

I would love to know how to skin and gut road kill, to be that practical.

I use old jars as glasses too, Nutella ones are best as they don't have a thread, they look just like tumblers. I try and be as thrifty as possible in as many areas as I can. That way I can, occassionally splash out on, say, a pair of really expensive shoes or resaurant meal.I hate cheap shoes they pinch.

Christy said...

I've lived in the Ozarks and there, it's common to eat roadkill. Of course, roadkill there is often a big deer. Eating it takes some of the sting out of the expensive car repairs that the deer caused in the first place. Luckily (unluckily?), I've never developed a taste for venison.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I think a lot more people would be vegetarians if everyone had to kill for their meat.

DaviMack said...

I would say that the stigma attached to both eating roadkill & "being thrifty" has more to do with being ashamed of being poor than it does with the particular action. You're able to rationalize bargains as an adult, but as a child you were probably ashamed of needing to bargain hunt. Same with rabbits, I'd surmise.

What do you think?

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- My parents, who were older than all my friends' parents, lived through the Depression and never forgot it. Almost everything in our house got saved or recycled, and over-eager consumers who felt a compulsion to keep up with the Jones' were, if not scorned, pitied. Now I look back and admire my parents' -- really my mother's -- sense of economy and respect for resources, but at the time I was filled with shame. I greatly envied friends whose parents bought lavishly and discarded freely.

You are right: watching Dina pick up that rabbit reminded me of our past economies. I felt a mixture of pride and shame...

Eryl -- I actually know how to skin and gut, but I find it endlessly tiresome. It takes a strong stomach -- and strong hands. Guts are slippery and you need a very sharp knife.

I too practice economy so that I can splash out on expensive things occasionally, but I would probably shell out for a nice meal over a pair of good shoes.

Christy -- A friend of Dina's called her once while I was over; he'd spotted a deer just hit on the highway and was letting her know the location. She decided she didn't have enough room in the freezer. I don't have a taste for venison either, but I would probably eat road kill deer if offered it.

GB -- I am virtually a vegetarian now, but if I had to catch my own fish and wring my own chickens' necks, I would be a vegetarian, pure and simple. Though I might indulge in the occasional bit of road kill if someone else was kind enough to skin and gut it for me.

David -- We were not terribly poor when I was growing up, but you are right: I could not rationalize my mother's fascination with bargains and her joy in finding one. Now I take great delight in economizing and celebrate my mother's unabashed joy in saving money and making do.

Carole said...

I don't think I would want to eat roadkill. I did grow up on wild game but now that I can go and get a nice piece of cleaned, featherless chicken at the grocer's, I take that option.

Kara said...

I'm trying to find something beyond my own squeamishness that is ethically and morally wrong with what your friend did. And I can't. But what I can say is I would've dropped that little corpse in bleach before I would condescend to place it in my mouth. Which would kill me.

A Paperback Writer said...

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

My parents grew up during the Depression. We save stuff. We never asked for the neighbors' pie tins, but our own cats and dogs were frequently fed from our own saved tins. My grandmother washed and dried tinfoil and plastic bags, so does my mother -- so do I, but I don't do it because I have to; I do it for the environment.
We had new clothes as kids, but we gave our old ones to thrift stores or "ripped rags" (cut off buttons and zippers, then ripped the fabric into strips suitable for scrubbing the screens used in my dad's silk-screen printing business) if they were too worn out. I have a rag rug made from scraps. My great-grandmother made crazy quilts from old clothes.
I've never been ashamed of any of this.
BUT, I could not eat road kill, even if I saw it freshly and cleanly killed. I have no issues if your friend wants to do this, and I grew up eating stuff my father brought home from hunting trips (pheasant, deer, antelope), but I could not make myself gut an animal unless I were starving. And road kill.... ugh. I drive a freeway through open fields 20 miles each way to and from school. Road kill is visible daily (usually skunk, racoon, or cat). Bloody red innards all over the road is not a pretty sight. I could not possibly eat something, even if left in one piece, after so many sightings of such stuff.
Oh, and I'm pretty much a vegetarian too. It's been years since I pulled even the skin off a chicken. All that greasy fat to pull off of meat. Yick. I don't miss that at all.
Well, more power to your friend for using something that would otherwise go to waste, but I'll stick with re-using tinfoil.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- Coward that I am, I take that option too. There's far less clean-up, and as I am the one who always gets stuck with gutting fish or removing the turkey's innards, I go the easy way. But I am still impressed with Dina's road kill habit.

Kara -- I went through exactly the same process you did: it just seemed wrong. Minutes before, the rabbit had been a free creature with a pulse and its own will; suddenly it was an entree... I can't say that I would dip it in bleach, though.

APW -- My parents knew that little ditty too, and 'Is this trip necessary?' was another one they often quoted, and perhaps the reason I got my driving license decades after my friends had theirs. I'm ashamed that I was ashamed, but you just had to be there: my parents took it to an extreme. When the first recycling center opened on the university campus where my father worked, my mother was their very first customer. I remember how popular she was with all the students who didn't see an embarrassing parent, but a woman who was big on saving the planet. What a revelation to my snooty little adolescent self.

Dina did the rabbit with a handful of wild garlic and some mushrooms (from the local woods), some red wine, bay leaves, carrots and shallots. I'd have eaten it. Happily. But I'd have to be well and truly starving to touch road kill skunk.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I started out this post going Oh! oh! But the poor wee bunny! And by the time I got to the last comment I'd have eaten anything she hit by the sounds of how she cooked it. Delicious.

We once ate venison for nearly a week when my dad's friend ran over a deer in his truck. The collision damn near killed him, so we looked upon it as a life-affirming feast.

Kim Ayres said...

Apparently it's illegal to pick up a pheasant you've run over in this country, but it is legal to pick one up that someone else ran over.

So if you fancy pheasant you'll have to go out in 2 cars...

Brian said...

By coincidence today , while shopping , I was waiting for my wife to return as I sat just outside a butcher's shop -- one Roger's -- who advertised rabbits for sale -- highly expensive farmed ones . lol-- Roger the Rabbitoh !

Our hunted wild ones we always checked very carefully -- even before the myxomatosis decimated them -- always checked liver in particular -- fluke and hydatids .

One thing -- pest they were in plague proportions -- but they gave Oz the iconic Akubra hat , and the name of a rugby league team

Hunting may have its advantages for the taste of the game , but there is a definite downside


Mary Witzl said...

Sam -- Your initial reaction was the same as mine: 'Oh, poor little thing,' followed by, 'but if you had to die, you'll not go to waste,' then finally 'and you'll taste pretty good, too.' What I could not do, unless I was very hungry, was kill my own. I think it is a more honest way of eating, though, and have little patience for those who maintain that it is cruel to hunt bunnies, while purchasing their meat pre-killed and well wrapped.

Kim -- I would say I'm game if you are, but that would be an awful pun. And I'd hate to kill a pheasant, daft critters that they are, always running in front of my car. They say road kill pheasant is tricky: lots of little bits of fractured bones, apparently.

Brian -- Somehow the thought of having to check dead rabbits for liver flukes and hydatid cysts doesn't do much to whet my appetite. I'll never forget seeing what was in a seagull once, quite by accident...ooh, sorry I started that one!

But I love the idea of a butcher called Roger the Rabbit.

Jewell Ertman said...

Wow, quite an interesting story. Perhaps its something to aspire to...

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do not eat road kill myself, though I have witnessed it many an occasion (I grew up in the Southern US). I have a friend who brought home alligator road kill and turned it into sausage. SERIOUSLY -- NOT MAKING THAT UP!!!!

Um, so, yeah. I'm not into roadkill.

Mary Witzl said...

Jewell -- Actually, I aspire to being a guest at Dina's house, but I am sad to say I am too lazy and soft to pick up my own road kill...

ARU -- I believe you! I've got relatives in Florida and have heard similar stories . A cousin of mine once dated a man who wrestled alligators for a living (no one believes that either), and I well remember stories about what could be done with alligator road kill. I can't say it does much for my appetite, but I'm sure a little poverty would change my mind.

Brian said...

You can get crocodile tail at some flashy Oz restaurants

I am told it is delicious -- better than 'roo -- and more fun to deal with there than in the wild

And snake is very like chicken I believe


Chocolatesa said...

I'd definitely eat my own or other's roadkill if it was fresh and in good shape. I'd just have to learn how to skin and gut it, but that must not be all that difficult. I used to love to go fishing in the lake the summer we spent at my grandfather's place in Sweden when I was 14, and didn't mind all that much having to clean the fish myself. I couldn't believe it when I brought my dad with me one day and he was too squeamish to even put a worm on a hook!

I'd love to learn to hunt, and when I retire if not before then I'm going to buy myself a whole lot of fishing gear and take up fishing as a hobby. I love fishing!