*Sound of a needle being taken off a record* “Lol whut?”
An Aussie was recently gobsmacked to find a caged live koala for edible sale in Guangzhou’s Panyu district, with the marsupial available either braised or stewed. Which we find offensive, since it doesn’t pay nearly enough respect to Australia’s rich culinary traditions of barbecuing, adding Vegemite, or sticking everything in a meat pie and calling it good.
However, we have some doubt that it’s actually a koala involved. It might instead be an old-fashioned case of Guangzhou flimflammery (remember the painted-on walkways for the blind?), since the “koala” in question is going for the meager price of 139RMB. Surely underselling one of the bestselling trinket animals of all-time, no?
Whenever these sorts of stories concerning what people in China and elsewhere are willing to eat, the defense in favor of the practice always amounts to the notion of animal equality. The world mainstream that readily consumes pork (which Muslims avoid) and beef (which Hindus abhor), has no logical reason to dictate blanket rules concerning what is and is not offensive to consume, the thinking goes.
And yet, concerns persist regarding the inherent value of certain exceptional animals, which are full of a ‘connotative resonance’, a term we heard used in a Plant Earth documentary on tigers. Animals that serve as national symbols or as the protagonists of cartoons are regarded as beyond the pale when it comes to meat consumption, and campaigns are waged to convince specific cultures of their significance.
What it boils down to, basically, is the question of who is barbaric and who is civilized. Regardless of what behavior is attached to either label, cultural chauvinism and the idea that particular savage groups are inferior is certainly something that much of China subscribes to.
There’s also the contentious issue of how the meat is prepared. Sure, maybe some free-range organic koalas that were massaged regularly and fed the best eucalyptus leaves could possibly be alright, but kept in a cage and then taken out back to be braised to death? That’s another story.
Our verdict? Until kangaroo meat stops being sold regularly in Australian supermarkets, then there’s no reason koalas shouldn’t join their perennial rival for pop-cultural dominance in the meat aisle. Which we understand amounts to ‘two cute animals being eaten don’t make a right’, but hey, fair’s fair.
Update: It wasn’t koalas on sale in Guangzhou, but “bamboo rats”