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What you can do with the city

Living in a city means living together, defining and negotiating relationships with neighbours and with the urban environment. But it’s easy to overlook the everyday actions that make the stuff of urban life because it often seems like they are overpowered by the heavy frame of the contemporary urban system’s logistics, administration, and regulations. Bring the focus back onto pedestrians, gardeners, religious pilgrims, cyclists, recyclers, and drivers stuck in traffic. Make and use the city.

Article 10 of 14

Roadkill Recipe

Text by Fergus the Forager

Fergus Drennan foraging Mahonia japonica berries at a gas station, Canterbury, 2008

We’ve all seen the astonishingly disgraceful figures detailing the tons of perfectly good food we throw away every year. We all know about the polluting effects of excessive food miles. And we all know that packaging is destroying our landscape, whether in the form of ubiquitous plastic bag remnants in trees, oceans full of stuff that starves and suffocates albatrosses, or landfills stinking with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind debris of our rampant consumerism. Eating wild food seems to bypass many of these problems whilst, inevitably, giving rise to inherent problems of its own. And, in that respect, I’m definitely not suggesting that if the current millions populating the British Isles returned to subsistence living and we all foraged for our supper we would achieve a return to some lost Eden of plenty, a place where we all lie basking in the sun with sheep and lions, with humanity and nature in perfect harmony, at one, as manna gently falls on a heavenly summer breeze. Far from it; far, far from it! The dire results would make foliage-stripping locusts of us all. Nevertheless, through incorporating a certain amount of wild food into the diet there is much to be learned.

Quite a few people have been asking me about roadkill, so I’m going to say a few words about it. Not that I eat it that much. At most it constitutes 1 to 5 percent of my diet throughout the year. Also, I would rarely if ever actively go out searching for it. I love animals, therefore I don’t eat them (roadkill excepted). For me the least hypocritical position, and the position that gives you the greatest connection to and understanding of the animal you wish to consume, is to eat only animals that you yourself have hunted and killed. Emotionally, though, I cannot do it!

Anyway, occasionally I do like to eat meat. I am very fond of our native wildlife and am extremely distressed at the number of animals and insects needlessly killed every day—needlessly killed due to human greed, recklessness, laziness, lack of awareness or concern, and general environmental exploitation and mismanagement. At the same time, I find myself similarly distressed and concerned by our consumer society’s insatiable thirst and craving for cheap but, relatively speaking, nutritionally valueless, food. And so, two ideas collide and generate a surprising idea: eat roadkill. It’s not factory farmed or pumped full of antibiotics. It is fresh, local, seasonal, and nutritionally rich. The most common finds are pheasant, squirrel, rabbit, fox, hedgehog, badger, moorhen, and hare. This is certainly the case where I live, in Kent. And, really, it’s not so unusual to be eating such things—historically.

I don’t want animals killed for me to eat, nor do I wish to kill them. Of course, no doubt a strong intellectual argument could be used to support this position on moral grounds, or we could talk about it from a spiritual point of view, relating it to such concepts as karma and ahimsa—maybe some other time. The truth is I am sentimental; it’s an emotional thing.

Pan-braised squirrels

Serves four

Ingredients

4 skinned and gutted squirrels, feet removed
8 ml olive oil
300 g dandelion leaves
300 g young sow thistle leaves
100 g young dock leaves
150 g hairy bitter cress
150 g nettle tops
3 medium-sized onions
100 g wild chervil or parsley
80 g dill
A few lemon balm leaves
Juice of 1 large orange
Pine nuts
Toasted sesame seeds
A few dried apricots or raisins
15 ml balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 small chili pepper
Salt and pepper
Water

Preparation

Sweat the onions in the olive oil. Meanwhile, boil a pan of water and add the dock, sow thistle, and dandelion leaves. Boil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Strain off and discard the water (to remove excess bitterness from leaves). Add onions and boiled leaves as well as all other ingredients to the meat pan. Also add about 3 cups of water. Simmer for about 1 hour with a lid on the pan, stirring occasionally to ensure no sticking and add a little more water if necessary. Serve with good rustic bread to soak up the juices.

Fergus Drennan—Fergus the Forager—is a wild food activist and educator. This recipe was first published in Actions: What You Can Do with the City, a book we produced in 2008.

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