Whether we find a particular animal meat delicious or unsettling is usually a matter of cultural construction, unless you disavow meat entirely. Horse meat is largely a non-starter in America, but not so in other countries. We even decide that certain animals’ milks are wholesome (cow, goat) while others are totally bizarre (yak, whale). In the U.K., several chefs have begun championing the ubiquitous grey squirrel as a food source, to others’ dismay or revulsion. The chefs say it’s overpopulated and threatens other squirrel species; therefor, the grey squirrel could be the ultimate sustainable meat.
Finding culinary uses for invasive species is not a new concept (see: Asian carp, purslane, and red swamp crayfish). The Guardian reports that in a similar vein, a handful of U.K. chefs are attempting to convince a skeptical public that eating grey squirrel might be the solution to its overpopulation. London chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes serves it in a savory pie with sweet pickled onion relish; Suffolk-based The Wild Meat Company will sell it to customers for home cooking.
The grey squirrel arrived in the U.K. in the late 19th century from America, originally considered a “fashionable” animal to have on one’s country estate. Their populations surged to the point that these critters now threaten the population of native red squirrels, which are thought to number only 10,000-15,000. Grey squirrels compete for winter resources with the red squirrels, but because the non-native species is larger and capable of storing more fat, it is more likely to survive harsh winters.
Critics of consuming grey squirrel meat say there’s no such thing as ethical meat, and that year-round hunting and trapping of these animals kills lactating mothers, leaving their young to starve. But the question of whether eating squirrel meat is ethical will be a moot point if the greater U.K. public can’t get behind it as a food source. Remember Louisiana’s campaign to make the invasive rodent nutria a delicacy? It didn’t win everyone over. As one trapper told NPR: “We never got into eating it, I guess [because] the looks... it looks like a rat. It’s not a pretty animal.”