Though it seems off-putting, proponents argue it’s a useful way to cull an invasive species.
For many of us, the idea of eating squirrel is repulsive. To do so conjures images of desperate times in the old West or some post-apocalyptic survival scenario where one has to cook and kill whatever they can to survive. So it might come as a shock to learn that some chefs over in Great Britain believe that the grey squirrel might just be the future of sustainable meat eating.
That’s if the menu at chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes’ London restaurant Native is to be believed. There, curious diners can try squirrel meat pie with a sweet pickled onion relish and squirrel ragu lasagna. It’s part of a push to get diners to overcome their squeamishness and see grey squirrel as a viable, perhaps even ethical, protein source.
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“Squirrel is one of the most sustainable proteins you can cook really. It is almost exactly the same in taste as rabbit,” Tisdall-Downes’ told the Evening Standard. “It's not as gamey as rabbit, it's nice white meat. It's good to cook down slowly… It's very good for you, it's quite lean."
The grey squirrel’s culinary moment isn’t entirely based on taste, however: Conservationists believe that positioning grey squirrel meat as attractively edible could help cull the population of an invasive species. The grey squirrel was first brought to the UK towards the end of the 19th century, and its population has exploded In the 100-plus years since. That’s made life difficult for the native red squirrel, whose smaller stature makes it tough for them to compete with their grey counterparts for food during the harsh winter months. Estimates suggest there aren’t more than 15,000 red squirrels left in Great Britain.
Subsequently, those concerned with the plight of the red squirrel hope that encouraging the consumption of its rival’s meat will incentivize efforts to cull the population. Critics of that plan refute the notion that killing even an invasive species is ethical. Because vermin like grey squirrel can be hunted year round, it’s also possible that lactating mothers would be caught in the cull, leaving their young to starve.
It will some time for the idea of eating grey squirrel to gain mainstream acceptance, but there’s no doubt that killing and serving up an invasive species is at least a little better for the planet than factory farming. And once you consider that most of the other sustainable protein sources we might have to turn to in the future seem to be insects, a serving of rabbit-like squirrel meat doesn’t sound too bad right about now.