It has been said that there is a 12:1 ratio of rats to people in New York City. Granted, this is just an estimate, but it cannot be far off, considering the city has been plagued with rats for over a century. So it is fitting that this city, host to so many rats as well as vibrant discussions on sustainable eating, would also be an opportune place to start serving up rats for human consumption.
Don’t panic: you will not find rats on (or off) the menu at Gramercy Tavern, as we are probably decades away from the wide acceptance of rats for dinner (unless there is another impending apocalypse around the corner). However, call it art, call it performance, or just call it a fairly unappetizing dinner, but recently, at the Allegra LaViola Gallery on the Lower East Side, people were feasting on an assortment of rat meat preparations. What used to be relegated to the poorest of castes in India is now considered a sort of stunt dinner for the select few that were invited to artist Laura Ginn’s opening at the LES gallery. The show, entitled “Tomorrow We Will Feast Again on What We Catch,” centered on a multicourse meal in which the main ingredients, and aesthetic stars, were rats. Diners nibbled on goat cheese bruschetta topped with rat leg tenderloin, and rat-pork terrine encircled with beef fat, all of which were shipped from a United States Department of Agriculture-approved West Coast processor that supplies pet owners with humanely-killed, individually flash-frozen rodents (not exactly local eating). To take things even further, the artist wore a dress made of 300 rat pelts.
Granted, most people are extremely squeamish, if not repelled, by the idea of eating a rat, and this event was not intended to promote rat eating so much as careful consideration of our relationship to this vermin—but what if we did devise a way to consume this plentiful source of protein? Sure, you wouldn’t want to pluck just any rat from the sewer and throw it in a sauté pan, but what if we could find a sustainable, safe, and desirable way to address both our desire for cheap animal protein as well as our expanding rat population in one culinary gesture? Could you, would you eat a rat?