Let them Eat Rats

Photo Credit: Limonada

I think what disturbs me about this Reuters news piece even more than the Let them Eat Mud story that I posted about mud cake consumption in Haiti, is that the government in Bihar, India, is actively promoting it.

Just to be clear. It’s official government policy for people to eat rats. (The full story here and below.)

It’s a useful case to ruminate over. What is it, after all, that’s so appalling here? Clearly the idea of eating vermin is, by definition, distasteful, but what a culture decides is edible, and what is pestilent, isn’t written in our DNA. As we used to chorus in Sociology 101: “it’s a social construct”. Some think pork is as dirty as rat. Some think that by renaming pigeons as ‘squab’, they’ll taste better.

That people are eating rodents isn’t the only thing that should turn our stomachs, though. The Bihari government endorsement of rat-eating is simultaneously a sign of defeat. They’ve given up on fighting poverty so that people can afford to eat. Given up on trying to protect the grain harvests with decent infrastructure. Given up, almost, on their people.

In a time of scarce resources and rising hunger, rat-eating becomes a handy technical fix. After all, what is rat-eating but a technology to increase nutrition and eliminate the use of pesticides and the need for secure grain storage?

And if we’re appalled by this, and we should be, then how different is this from the logic that justifies Golden Rice? After all, doesn’t golden rice become useful only when governments have resigned themselves to the fact that the only thing people can afford to eat is rice? That the healthcare system can’t be resuscitated? That the best technology to fix the problem is one that doesn’t address it?


PATNA, India, Aug 18 (Reuters) – A state government in eastern Indian is encouraging people to eat rats in an effort to battle soaring food prices and save grain stocks.

Authorities in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, are asking rich and poor alike to switch to eating rats in a bid to reduce the dependence on rice. They even plan to offer rats on restaurant menus.

“Eating of rats will serve twin purposes — it will save grains from being eaten away by rats and will simultaneously increase our grain stock,” Vijay Prakash, an official from the state’s welfare department, told Reuters.

Officials say almost 50 percent of India’s food grains stocks are eaten away by rodents in fields or warehouses.

Jitan Ram Manjhi, Bihar’s caste and tribe welfare minister, said rat meat was a healthy alternative to expensive rice or grains, and should be eaten by one and all.

“We are very serious to implement this project since the food crisis is turning serious day by day,” Manjhi, who has eaten rats, told Reuters.

In Bihar, rat meat is already eaten by Mushars, a group of lower caste Hindus, as well as poorer sections of society. (Writing by Melanie Lee; Editing by Paul Tait)

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