Kangaroo for tea? Oh my!

By Jennifer Martens
Thursday, 4th November 2010

I was discussing what to have for tea the other day with my sister, who was visiting from overseas. While tossing around the usual suspects such as steak, pasta or stir-fry, I hit a nerve when I suggested kangaroo. “Oh my!” she said. “Kangaroo? No. I couldn’t. They are way too cute!”

I had to agree. Kangaroos can be pretty cute, but certainly no cuter than a cow or a little pink pig. And, just between you and me, I have seen her wolf down both a burger and plate of ribs - at separate times mind you - so fast you’d think she was gunning for a medal. So, I had to conclude that her aversion to eating kangaroo meat came simply from a lack of information. And with that, I had set myself a mission - to open her eyes to the benefits of eating kangaroo meat and serve her up a tasty plate of roo before she left Australia.

Prior to embarking on this task, I had to make sure my sister could actually get kangaroo in her part of the world. There was no point of making a convert out of her unless she could get the goods back home. A few clicks on the internet and my suspicions were confirmed. There are a number of ‘exotic’ meat distributors in her neck of the woods.

In trying to convince my sister, who is a health teacher, that our national emblem was a perfectly suitable menu item, I pulled out the big guns: health, the environment and her family - issues that are all extremely important to her.

Health benefits of eating kangaroo meat
Nutritionally, kangaroo tops the list of lean red meats. It is high in protein, zinc, iron and several B-group vitamins. It is low in saturated fat (less than 2 per cent), but is one of the world’s best-known source of conjugated linoliec acid (CLA), which is a naturally occurring healthy fat acid found primarily in the meat and dairy products of ruminants. This fat also has anticarcinogenic properties and has been shown to reduce obesity and heart disease in humans. Kangaroo is a good source of Omega-3s and, to top it off, it is hormone and antibiotic free.

Environmental benefits of harvesting kangaroos
When considering the environment, again, you can’t go past kangaroo. According to Dr David Freudenberger of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), there are many reasons to harvest kangaroo:

1. They are abundant. There is said to be more than 25 million in the outback, which is due to the removal of the dingo and the proliferation of water sources such as dams and wells.

2. They have been harvested for more than 50,000 years and without predation; population control only comes from starvation and disease.

3. Kangaroos are professionally harvested (not farmed) and the industry is strictly monitored by wildlife agencies in each state.

4. Harvesting kangaroos reduces the total pressure on Australia’s fragile plants and soils.

Other environmental benefits come from comparing kangaroo with cattle. It is a well-known fact that cows contribute to a large portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. “Fourteen per cent of emissions from all sources in Australia are from enteric (intestinal) methane from cattle and sheep,” said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland Government.

Kangaroos, on the other hand, do not produce methane. Instead, the bacteria in their stomachs, which aids digestion, produces acetate (the hydrogen by-product of fermentation), which is used to provide further energy. Researchers are even looking into how to transfer this good bacteria to cows to reduce or eliminate their methane production. This sounds all well and good, but I’m guessing it would just be easier to eat more kangaroo.

Another interesting fact that supports the consumption of kangaroo meat relates to the amount of energy needed to raise a cow. A number of sources state that it takes the energy equivalent of about 511 litres of petrol to raise a steer. Because kangaroos are not farmed, a comparison was hard to find, but from what I could gather, a kangaroo’s energy equivalent is considerably less. The Macro Meats website states, “Report author of ‘Paths to a Low Carbon Future’ Dr Mark Diesendorf said reducing beef consumption by 20 per cent and putting Skippy on the dinner plate instead would cut 15 megatonnes of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by 2020.”

Green living may have started out as a fashionable trend, but these days, it is pretty much a necessity. A look at the increasing decline of the Great Barrier Reef proves that we can no longer ignore the damage our way of living is causing the environment.

Like me, my sister is a mother, so I reminded her that it is our job to not only teach our children how to relate to others in this world, but also how to care for our environment. I believe it is important to start talking to our children, when they are young, about words such as sustainability, biodiversity, conservation and ecology.

As an Australian, it is critical that those of us who live in this country recognise that it is a unique place. It is not like any other country or continent in the world. The environment is extremely fragile and to go on living like it were a European country, using European agricultural methods, will see irreparable damage to our future. Eating kangaroo is an easy way to broach these subjects.

For many families, mine included, the dinner table is more than just a platform for serving food. It has become a sort of ‘round table’ for discussing our lives and teaching our children. A challenge to us all would be to serve up a plate of kangaroo bolognaise or kangaroo fillet and make the night’s lesson ‘biodiversity’. Our children and the environment will thank us for it.

Back to my mission...I should have joined the debate team in high school or maybe become a chef. I put forward a convincing argument and then proceeded to whip up a very tasty pot of red Thai peanut kangaroo curry with coconut rice. Mission accomplished.