Going feral: Wild meat consumption and theuncanny in Melbourne, Australia

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From Research Gate

Feral animals are commonly constructed as the scourge of the Australian landscape. The transgressive act of introduced, domestic animals going wild elicits strong emotive responses within the community, often conceived in a kind of Freudian spectre of das unheimliche (the uncanny/unhomely), as the once familiar becomes uncontrolled, strange and frightening. Meanwhile, exponential global growth in human populations, and the resulting strain on the environment and food security, is necessitating the rethinking of meat consumption. In Australia, while the stigma surrounding feral animals has historically inhibited their consumption, feral meat is
regarded by a growing body of advocates as an environmentally favourable alternative to farmed meat, allowing not only the avoidance of animal suffering within the industrial agriculture model, but also benefitting ecosystems through the removal of damage-wreaking interlopers. This paper explores the feral turn and its contemporary manifestations as a growing food movement in Melbourne.
On a Thursday afternoon in August 2014, I spent the afternoon hanging out at a market stall selling wild meat in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The owner is a charismatic and savvy business woman, who after three decades of managing a team of 200 selling sweets for a corporate giant, saw a niche, took a risk, and started selling game meat. She has strong rapport with her customers, many of whom are regulars, and when I arrived she was busy phoning a list of people awaiting their portion of the whole deer she had just received from a supplier. She was excited about the venison, and told me they had been waiting a long time for it: ‘Because they’re wild, it’s not like you can just go and order one,’ she commented. ‘It’s only when the hunters bring it in.’ Her excitement was shared by the first of the venison customers to respond to her call, an Australian man in his fifties of Sri Lankan background. The stall owner, who I will call Kathy, showed him various cuts of the 40 kilogram Red Deer, before he decided on a portion of ribs. While Kathy butchered it to his requirements, the customer described the curry he planned to make with it that evening. He said he likes venison for the flavour, as it is much richer than goat or beef, which he dismissed as ‘just like eating potatoes.’
I asked if he had tried kangarooone of the primary sellers species that have dominated since the 1960s, suggesting that this typology has resulted in the disproportionate scapegoating of ferals as an environmental scourge epitomising das unheimliche. I argue that in this mode of thought it is the wildness of ferals, rather than any qualities inherent in particular species, that has led to their negative reputation and the consequent repulsion at the prospect of their consumption. In recent years, however, growing environmental awareness, animal welfare concerns and transformations within Australian foodways have made inroads into the mainstream, and I subsequently suggest that for a growing portion of the community, a sense of das unheimliche has shifted full circle away from wildness and back towards the domestic, as the industrial food complex and practices of animal rearing therein are increasingly brought to light, challenged and rejected. Concomitant with the shift toward re-wilding that the rejection of industrial agriculture has precipitated is a growing interest in wild meat consumption. In the final section, I describe the motivations driving and practices surrounding feral consumption within the broader terrain of alternative food movements among a growing number of people in Melbourne.

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