In the cosy confines of a kitchen in Brixton, south London, the preparations for a dinner party are in full swing. Ed and his long-term girlfriend, Anne, are pulling together the ingredients for a bountiful mid-week feast. Uncorking an Australian Chardonnay, they pick their way through some choice fillet and throw it on to a sizzling saucepan as their guest, Natasha, smiles on, unaware of the ordeal about to befall her.
Natasha, an Australian expatriate living in London, is keen to sample the mysterious slap-up grub. Her mission is to taste the meat shortly to be served, even though she has only been furnished with the scantest of details of what it actually is. As the cookery wears on (with the author in a back-seat "expediting" role), sausages and burgers join their raw animal bedfellow on the spotlessly clean cooker, which spews forth pungent fumes. Natasha inquires as to the identity of the aforementioned meat, but no answer is forthcoming. Soon, the finished, cooked meal is transported through into a nearby, candle-lit dining room and all are eager to chow down.
What those in attendance have failed to tell Natasha is that she is about to tuck into her national mascot, namely kangaroo, and lots of it. In this act of seemingly sadistic cuisine lies an important moral message. Where once "Skippy" warned his human colleagues away from danger, nowadays he is more likely to get digested with a fruity glass of plonk.
The kangaroo industry is a £100m-a-year affair in Australia. While the country produces 30 million kg of kangaroo meat each year, it consumes less than 10 million kg; one of the reasons for this is that roos are often unfavourably thought of as "roadkill" down under. Kangaroo meat makes up half of Australia's exports to Russia and is also popular in Europe. While a few restaurants in Britain stock the meat in question, it is yet to get the attention it deserves. Until now.
Greenpeace recently funded a survey in which it was claimed that eating kangaroos in place of other meats can radically reduce one's carbon footprint. The perhaps unhygienic reason for this is that kangaroos don't produce flatulence (so to speak). Cows and sheep produce vast volumes of methane through belching and, well, whatever happens at the other end.
The meat is low in cholesterol and fat, and bursting with protein, iron, zinc and conjugated linoleic acid, which reduces blood pressure – all guaranteed to put a spring in your step.
The kangaroo's superiority in many ways might not be as bizarre as it might first appear: the marsupials have great personal hygiene, need less food than sheep or cattle and are better adapted to drought; they are generally high up the evolutionary tree (although, sadly for them, not as high as us).
And in the flesh they do taste pretty nice: a gamey flavour (that, it must be warned, tails off into "Gagsville" as the produce cools). It is recommended brushed with oil and cooked rare to medium-rare to stop it becoming dry and chewy. Most of it looks like beef. The fillet looks pretty ordinary. Upon sawing through the loin presented before him as though he were a king, Ed, a London advertising hotshot, says: "Mmm, delicious. I particularly loved the burgers. The fillet tasted somewhere in between pheasant and beef, though I'd prefer a good Toulouse sausage any day. Given the low-carbon impact of kangaroo meat, I'll definitely be eating roo burgers again."
The Greenpeace-funded report, authored by the Australian scientist Dr Mark Diesendorf, claims that Australia can reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2020. One way it can do this is by cutting down on cows. Dr Diesendorf writes that reducing beef consumption by 20 per cent and putting Skippy on the dinner plate instead would cut 15 megatonnes of greenhouses gases from the atmosphere by 2020. "Kangaroos do not emit greenhouse gases," he writes. "They are not hooved animals, either, so they don't damage the soil." He adds that kangaroo is very healthy and low in fat. "There's a small subset of environmentalists who see the kangaroo as a cuddly animal which should be left alone. They are entitled to their view, but more and more people are moving towards eating it."
Indeed, there is a slough of websites advertising kangaroo-eating possibilities. One of these is by the Bristol-based meat supplier Osgrow, run by Paul Cook. Cook says that kangaroo is one of his company's best-selling items; he sells it to specialist restaurants. All is imported through container ships, thus obviously avoiding the huge carbon footprint that would be stamped across planet Earth by an ecologically unfriendly jumbo jet.
Osgrow uses two cuts of kangaroo; four of the 48 different species are harvested for commercial purposes. The population is monitored by the Australian government, which issues annual quotas for commercial harvesting; no kangaroos are taken from national parks or conservation areas.
Although aborigines have been happily tucking into kangaroo for thousands of years, most Australians are uncharacteristically sentimental about doing so. Not Natasha. She happily slices her way through the gamey burgers and stringy sausages – and helps herself to seconds. Skippy is both a problem solver and a tasty meal. What else could anyone ask for?
The up-and-comers of the meat industry
Ostrich farming in the UK has really taken off in the past decade – and with the health benefits, it's easy to see why. Ostrich meat has a 3 per cent fat content (compared with beef at 11 per cent and chicken at 8 per cent), low cholesterol, and high calcium, protein and iron. The birds also have the best feed-to-weight-gain ratio of any land animal in the world, making them a highly sustainable breed. Best eaten in steaks or sausages, ostrich tastes similar to prime beef.
The national symbol of South Africa, this small antelope is also one of its most delicious exports. Although springboks are a threatened species, the drive to increase the population relies on successful breeding for both ecological and commercial purposes. The meat is dark red and very tender, with typically half the fat and three-quarters of the cholesterol of beef. It has a small, fine grain, similar in texture to lamb fillet, and a taste somewhere between veal and venison.
Bison are North America's largest native animal. Since the 1990s, they have been farmed extensively in order to maintain current population levels. Flavour-wise, bison meat is very similar to beef, with no gamey or wild aftertaste. Because it is a lean meat, it should be cooked at a lower temperature, and does not need to be cooked as long as some other, fattier meats. It's also fairly healthy, being lower in cholesterol and fat than both fish and chicken.
If you fancy something closer to home, try venison. As part of the drive to manage wild-game numbers, deer culling is considered one of the most ethical ways to source meat in order to maintain a target population. Best in either steaks or burgers, venison is low in calories, cholesterol and fat. When cooked lean, the meat contains approximately 150 calories per 100g, and it is a source of niacin, potassium, phosphorus, iron, selenium and zinc.