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The New Livestock: Rodents of Unusual Size
Heifer.org ^ | 2012 | Jane Hahn

Posted on 11/22/2012 4:00:04 AM PST by Cronos

As Heifer Ghana got its start in 1999, staff swiftly tackled the challenge of affordably domesticating grasscutters, a wild rodent prized in West Africa for its sweet and lean meat. Since then, Heifer developed an accessible and hugely successful method to raise the rodents to improve nutrition and income among its project participants. Today, demand in West Africa and beyond drives exponential growth in the production and sale of the animals.

ANANG CHARLES, Ghana—She was clearly nervous. Strange people were milling about in front of her house asking questions about her. When she saw the camera, she froze. Her mouth full, food in hand, she didn't know what to do.

So she kept eating.

"She" was an overly large cross between a beaver and a rat, or a Rodent of Unusual Size, to use a popular culture reference. "She" is a grasscutter. And she has no idea that she's helping make the farmers who raise others like her very successful indeed.

It takes just 30 minutes to get to Jonathan Mensah's place by car from the Heifer offices in Accra, Ghana's sprawling capital city that's home to more than 2 million people. But Mensah's village is where you'll find more than 100 of Heifer Ghana's grasscutter farmers.

Farm is really a misnomer for where Mensah lives. He owns just more than two acres— down from the five he had before the capital seized part of his land to accommodate the burgeoning population.

Mensah, 53, joined a Heifer grasscutter project in 2006 not long after he lost most of his farmland. He was struggling to provide for his family of six by selling vegetables from his meager acreage with little access to water for irrigation.

"My father died when I was 13 years old, so I only completed my elementary education. I had to look after myself," Mensah said.

By the time he was 19, Mensah had found a job with the district Animal Health and Production Department. It was there that he learned how to feed and care for animals and also how to administer drugs. In 1989, he lost his job. His department was deemed overstaffed, and he was one of the unlucky few to be cut.

He received a small severance but almost immediately fell ill.

"I wanted to use the money to invest in my farm, but I couldn't because I was sick. I used the money for treatment. And even that money didn't treat me. So I sold some of my belongings. I lost everything. I became poorer and poorer. I had to start my life again," he said.

About a year after starting over, Mensah attended a farmers association meeting in his district. He and other farmers were commiserating about the difficulty of farming in Anang Charles village with the intermittent rain and other challenging weather conditions.

Another farmer brought up an organization that was helping farmers just like them.

"We heard about this NGO called Heifer who was helping. They were offering cattle, goats and these grasscutters, so we applied. At the end of the year, they approved us. It was a group of about 36 original farmers," he said. "It changed my life. It was a blessed event."

In contrast, the domestication of the grasscutter began in Ghana in the 1970s. It should come as no surprise that farmers are still learning exactly what it takes to raise the animal with as much financial success as chickens or cows.

Grasscutters, sometimes referred to with the less than appealing name cane rat, are native in much of central and West Africa and have long been a favorite food for many in the region.

Because of the grasscutter meat's popularity, a study was launched in the 1970s to gauge if the wild animals could be raised in captivity. The results indicated raising grasscutters on farms could be successful, but the idea fizzled. The startup costs for the smallscale and subsistence farmers involved were just too high, said Roland Kanlisi, interim country director for Heifer Ghana.

In 1999, a few years after the studies were abandoned and just as Heifer Ghana was opening its offices to support project work, Kanlisi was researching environmentally harmful methods with which Ghanaians were harvesting wild game.

What he found was that the Ghanaian taste for the rodent hadn't changed since the initial studies of the 1970s.

"The grasscutter came out as one of the most hunted animals from the wild," he said. "It's an animal that attracts premium prices on the market. Everyone wants grasscutter meat."

But Kanlisi's research found the high demand for grasscutter meat had adverse effects on the animal's habitats and the surrounding environment. Hunters used either poisonous traps for the animals or set bush fires to, quite literally, smoke out the creatures.

The poisonous meat would sicken those who ate the animals, and bush fires often got out of control, burning nearby farmland, he said. So Kanlisi decided the best answer would be to resume raising and breeding grasscutters on farms.

Around the same time, Kanlisi said, a happy coincidence occurred. Farmers in the Republic of Benin were having success in the captive rearing of the rodents with the help of a German development organization. The next step was to see exactly how they were doing it.

"We decided to go to Benin to learn from them. We also reviewed a lot of literature and realized it could be done in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, and it could be done in a manner that would not injure the health of human beings, and that it was also financially and technically viable," he said.

That trip was enough to convince Kanlisi to propose grasscutter production projects to Heifer headquarters.

"We developed a concept and submitted to Heifer to propose grasscutter production as one of the main interventions in the Ghana program. The reaction was, in the first case, 'What is a grasscutter? Is it a rat?' " Kanlisi said.

The concept was approved, which set Kanlisi to the next task: finding a foundation stock of grasscutters to provide the ready and willing farmers.

Kanlisi said Heifer had to decide between asking local hunters to cull the animals from the wild and buying the rodents from the farmers in Benin who were already in the business of raising grasscutters.

Rebecca Ashorkor (right) received five grasscutters in a Pass on the Gift Ceremony.
With a shipment of 300 grasscutters from the Republic of Benin, Heifer Ghana's grasscutter program started in 2001. The original project was the genesis for four other grasscutter projects, including Mensah's.

"I know grasscutters, but formerly, I didn't think they could be kept," Mensah said.

Ten years after the implementation of grasscutters into Heifer Ghana's programmatic work, and five years after Mensah began training on raising the rodents in captivity, he is now one of Heifer's most successful grasscutter farmers making, at minimum, $1,400 a year from his grasscutter operation alone, which is about double the average annual income of other Ghanaians.

Grasscutters were a natural fit not only because the meat is highly desired, Kanlisi said. The animals require few external inputs, like feed. As its name implies, it feeds on grasses, which farmers like Mensah can grow or harvest from the wild for free.

And because they are a native species, the rodents are also strong and resistant to diseases. Kanlisi said there are only two difficulties to the grasscutter projects. One is the difficulty in determining the sex of the animals, and the other is their relatively long gestation period of 159 days, similar to that of a goat.

Mensah said those difficulties were fully disclosed to the farmers when they were choosing what animals they'd like to receive from Heifer.

"We chose grasscutters because I like grasscutter more than goats. At times goats give more trouble. If they get out they can destroy other people's things. Grasscutters have bigger litters, and you get more than one [offspring] like with the goats. We compared all these things and then settled on grasscutters," he said. "They also bring good prices."

After a year of training, Mensah and the 35 other farmers in his group received five grasscutters each: three females and two males. The farmers also received the wooden and wire mesh housing in which to keep the animals.

He now keeps upwards of 50 grasscutters, depending on how many he's able to sell and if his animals are breeding. His stock dips at Christmastime, too, when grasscutters are the favorite for the holiday meal.

But the year-round sale of the grasscutters, whether for meat or to others interested in raising them, has allowed Mensah to open a savings account and to build a second home on his property, which he gave to two of his children. He's also adopted his brother's two orphaned children and is providing them with private schooling.

Business is still good. Mensah said there is a steady stream of people who come to see him about grasscutters.

"In a month I can sell about five, but it depends on if the animals have bred. Some people come by and order about 20 for rearing. So the orders vary. Sometimes they come and ask for one or two, but then sometimes people are afraid, so I process them and smoke the meat for them," he said.

The prices he receives vary depending on the size and age of the grasscutters. A 3-month-old animal fetches about 35 Ghanaian cedis, or $19.50. The older the animal, the higher the price: $28 for an animal up to age 2, and $33.50 for a pregnant female.

The pregnant females are highly desired, too, since many farmers who haven't received training still have difficulty breeding the animals, Mensah said. But if interested, Mensah will provide training on raising and breeding the animals at no cost. It's just one of the ways he passes on the gift.

In fact, Mensah and the original 35 members of the project keep giving to others.

"Whatever I've been given, I will pass on. Through this grasscutter project that Heifer brought, it has changed many people. The farmers I have trained, they also want to start a farm in the Eastern region. So we constructed the cages for them, brought the grasscutters for them. I trained them. So, we've supplied another region," Mensah said.

Mensah reaches in one of the animal cages to feed and water his grasscutters under the midday sun.
Aside from selling the animals, Mensah also builds the grasscutter hutches for others for a small fee plus the cost of building materials. But he can't handle the demand on his own. So the group found a local artisan and now contracts with him to build the cages.

These small-scale entrepreneurs are creating jobs for others, and Mensah has bigger plans, yet.

"I will start a training center here (at his home). I will train people," he said. "A lot of young men who go to Accra cannot get jobs because they don't have skills. So we will train them in grasscutters."

So much of the grasscutter program in Ghana seems improbable. A giant rat-like creature being a popular food source seems strange enough, but raising the animals on farms was an idea that was nearly discarded. Yet it has gained success. Further, grasscutters are feeding a growing population. It takes almost no land to become a successful grasscutter farmer, and the projects are sustaining the farmers who provide them.

Kanlisi notes that improbability.

"We've come a very long way," he said. "The first grasscutter project that we had has come to an end, but the farmers are still rearing grasscutters and some of them are real big-time grasscutter farmers. Many times we've used those farmers to mentor new project participants that are undertaking raising grasscutters as a business."

It is already a lucrative business, but Kanlisi sees Heifer grasscutter farmers building into national, regional and, maybe, even international suppliers. The market is definitely ripe for something like that in Central and West Africa, he says.

Kanlisi has anecdotal evidence from his own travels and from West African friends in other countries that there are vibrant markets for grasscutters in the diaspora, especially in Britain and the United States.

Though he knows the strict laws on importing foreign meats could be a potential roadblock, Kanlisi said Heifer Ghana will cross that bridge when needed. Still, he's excited by what he sees happening in Ghana right now.

"The long-term goal is to export, but we know to export is quite tricky. Regardless, it's a project that's got a very bright future," he said.


TOPICS: Food
KEYWORDS: africa; canerat; grasscutter; rat; rodent
hungry anyone?
1 posted on 11/22/2012 4:00:07 AM PST by Cronos
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To: Cronos

Not that long ago, folks would have looked at you weird for suggesting eating ostrich or buffalo too.


2 posted on 11/22/2012 4:08:01 AM PST by Little Pig (Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici.)
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To: Cronos

Guinea Pigs are a delicacy in South America.


3 posted on 11/22/2012 4:09:07 AM PST by COBOL2Java (The GOP-e said "Beat a Marxist with a Liberal!" What a colossal blunder.)
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To: Cronos

4 posted on 11/22/2012 4:14:27 AM PST by mkmensinger
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To: Cronos

5 posted on 11/22/2012 4:16:25 AM PST by Carpe Cerevisi
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To: Cronos

Uhhhh....no. But then I don’t live in Africa either.
When I read things like this, it always makes me stop and think what my life would be like had I been born anywhere but here, and I swear to you, I just cannot imagine it.


6 posted on 11/22/2012 4:16:28 AM PST by MestaMachine (It's the !!!!TREASON!!!!, stupid!)
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To: Cronos
You have completely ruined my Thanksgiving. My granddaughter is a teacher at an American International school in Ghana. I will wonder all day if they are being served rat for their holiday.......
7 posted on 11/22/2012 4:17:03 AM PST by Coldwater Creek (He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadows of the Almighty Psalm 91:)
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To: COBOL2Java

Depending on where you live, lots of peple here eat groundhog and opossum. I guess maybe we aren’t that different after all.


8 posted on 11/22/2012 4:19:43 AM PST by MestaMachine (It's the !!!!TREASON!!!!, stupid!)
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To: COBOL2Java

As are nutria.

There are nutria here in Washington, but I’ve never seen one.


9 posted on 11/22/2012 4:20:14 AM PST by djf (Conservative values help the poor. Liberal values help them STAY poor!!!)
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To: Carpe Cerevisi

I do not think that picture means what you think it means.

Prepare to die! ;-)

Cheers!

10 posted on 11/22/2012 4:22:05 AM PST by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: djf
There are nutria here in Washington, but I’ve never seen one

There are plenty in Washington, DC. They dress real nice.

11 posted on 11/22/2012 4:25:19 AM PST by COBOL2Java (The GOP-e said "Beat a Marxist with a Liberal!" What a colossal blunder.)
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To: Coldwater Creek

Ipswitch: Ms. Benes the hat you charged to the company was Sable, this is Neutria.

Elaine: Well, that’s a kind of sable.

Ipswitch: No, its a kind of rat.

Elaine: That’s a rat hat?

Ipswitch: And a poorly made one, even by rat hat standards.


12 posted on 11/22/2012 4:41:32 AM PST by Flick Lives (We're going to be just like the old Soviet Union, but with free cell phones!)
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To: Cronos
"Rodents of Unusual Size" and there are pictures but no pictures or words to allow ơne to know what "unusual size" implies, something between hamsters and capybaras, I suppose.
13 posted on 11/22/2012 4:43:27 AM PST by arthurus (Read Hazlitt's Economics In One Lesson ONLINE www.fee.org/library/books/economics-in-one-lesson)
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To: arthurus

I can’t imagine it to be any more strange than eating rabbits or squirrels.


14 posted on 11/22/2012 4:51:59 AM PST by DaiHuy (May God save the country, for it is evident the people will not! Millard Fillmore)
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To: arthurus
Here's a pix showing size.


15 posted on 11/22/2012 4:58:52 AM PST by plangent
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To: DaiHuy

A squirrel is a bushy-tailed rat. A rabbit is not. Think Easter Bunny.


16 posted on 11/22/2012 5:03:49 AM PST by OldEagle
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To: plangent

Definitely more practical than squirrel!


17 posted on 11/22/2012 5:05:09 AM PST by arthurus (Read Hazlitt's Economics In One Lesson ONLINE www.fee.org/library/books/economics-in-one-lesson)
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To: Cronos

I don’t think they exist...


18 posted on 11/22/2012 5:08:51 AM PST by rpierce (We have taglines now? :)
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To: MestaMachine

The fact that I was born in NM and not Mexico is all the difference in the world. And to accept that we are unique in being American and should embrace it rather than wallow in guilt. When we accept who we are, we make the world better.


19 posted on 11/22/2012 5:20:08 AM PST by ican'tbelieveit (School is prison for children who have commited the crime of being born. (attr: St_Thomas_Aquinas))
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To: Cronos

When will PETA arrive to protest this?


20 posted on 11/22/2012 5:23:00 AM PST by Peter W. Kessler (Dirt is for racing... asphalt is for getting there.)
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To: Cronos
I'd eat it without hesitation.

Sounds good.

21 posted on 11/22/2012 5:27:43 AM PST by SIDENET ("If that's your best, your best won't do." -Dee Snider)
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To: Cronos

As long as it’s from a clean herbivore, I don’t see a problem.

Meat is meat.


22 posted on 11/22/2012 5:40:31 AM PST by Dr.Zoidberg (John Winthrop's "City upon a Hill" just became a midden heap. Infested with rats and other vermin.)
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To: Cronos

When I was in Thailand, rat meat was always on the street vendors barbecue. I always said I ain’t eating no rat. The Thai captain I was paired with took me out to the rice paddies where the farmers started from one end of the paddy to the other beating bamboo sticks on the rice stalks. Others at the opposite end of the paddy bagged and clubbed the rats as they ran from one end to the other. I saw them, alive, and they were not our Norway rats. I eat rabbit, woodchucks and squirrels and these animals only ate rice. That night, Trang and I got drunk, sat on the curb and ate four rats apiece.


23 posted on 11/22/2012 5:54:01 AM PST by Safetgiver ( Islam makes barbarism look genteel.)
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To: Cronos

Will McDonald’s be offering a McVarmint burger soon?


24 posted on 11/22/2012 5:54:01 AM PST by Farmer Dean (stop worrying about what they want to do to you,start thinking about what you want to do to them)
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To: MestaMachine

and I swear to you, I just cannot imagine it....Rabbits, woodchucks, deer and ‘Them” rats only eat grass. What’s the problem (other than the idea of Norway rats which eat their own dead)?


25 posted on 11/22/2012 5:57:24 AM PST by Safetgiver ( Islam makes barbarism look genteel.)
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To: Safetgiver

I slowed down when driving one time, for what I thought was a large cat with a long tail. Sans tail, maybe 18-20”

Yes, it was a rat. I sped up but missed it.


26 posted on 11/22/2012 6:01:21 AM PST by combat_boots (I lost my tagline somewhere......)
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To: Cronos

Wait, they have to be approved to raise rats?


27 posted on 11/22/2012 6:32:45 AM PST by bgill (We've passed the point of no return. Welcome to Al Amerika.)
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To: Cronos
There is a rodent in South America called the Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), that grows to huge proportions and is eaten down there. Many Americans will eat ground hogs and squirrels so why not raise these things for food, squirrel is a bit gamy but if you`re hungry, its meat.
28 posted on 11/22/2012 6:41:08 AM PST by nomad
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To: combat_boots
"I slowed down when driving one time, for what I thought was a large cat with a long tail. Sans tail, maybe 18-20”

Very early one morning while working as the MP Duty Officer in Seoul, I was driving around Yongsan Garrison when a critter darted into the roadway, stopped, glared defiantly at my oncoming vehicle and then continued across the road. I'd been up for about 20+ hours at the time, and the first thought that lept into my fatigued mind was, "Hmmm, I didn't know there were opossum in Korea." Then it dawned on me...there aren't.

29 posted on 11/22/2012 6:47:56 AM PST by Joe 6-pack (Que me amat, amet et canem meum)
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To: Cronos
Paging G. Gordon Liddy.

SCTV 's Will, the movie

Rat burger, rat popover, apple brown ratty. Mmm mmm mmm!

Or, if you are interested in something completely different:

Monty Python, skip to about 1:30

Well there's rat cake ... rat sorbet ... rat pudding ... or strawberry tart.

30 posted on 11/22/2012 6:54:01 AM PST by KarlInOhio (Big Bird is a brood parasite: laid in our nest 43 years ago and we are still feeding him.)
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To: Cronos
Don't knock it. Cajuns eat nutria. Of course Cajuns eat damn near everything that lives in the swamp. And when they cook it, it really is delicious.
31 posted on 11/22/2012 7:12:15 AM PST by Tupelo (Hunkered down & loading up)
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To: Cronos

If I remember correctly chihuahua were raised by the Central and South American Indians for a meat source. Think yippy chicken.


32 posted on 11/22/2012 7:13:40 AM PST by Liaison
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To: Safetgiver

I am Jewish and it was part of my upbringing. Beyond that, some of it is purely psychological. The thought of eating certain things like cats and dogs just induces the gag reflex.
Forbidden:
Rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects (except as mentioned above) are all forbidden. Lev. 11:29-30, 42-43.
Of the things that are in the waters, you may eat anything that has fins and scales. Lev. 11:9; Deut. 14:9. Thus, shellfish such as lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams and crabs are all forbidden. Fish like tuna, carp, salmon and herring are all permitted.

Of the “beasts of the earth” (which basically refers to land mammals with the exception of swarming rodents), you may eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud. Lev. 11:3; Deut. 14:6. Any land mammal that does not have both of these qualities is forbidden. The Torah specifies that the camel, the rock badger, the hare and the pig are not kosher because each lacks one of these two qualifications. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer and bison are kosher.

For birds, the criteria is less clear. The Torah provides a list of forbidden birds (Lev. 11:13-19; Deut. 14:11-18), but does not specify why these particular birds are forbidden. All of the birds on the list are birds of prey or scavengers, thus the rabbis inferred that this was the basis for the distinction. Other birds are permitted, such as chicken, geese, ducks and turkeys

Of the “winged swarming things” (winged insects), a few are specifically permitted (Lev. 11:22), but the Sages are no longer certain which ones they are, so all have been forbidden.


33 posted on 11/22/2012 7:13:48 AM PST by MestaMachine (It's the !!!!TREASON!!!!, stupid!)
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To: Cronos

So? Rabbits are rodents too, and you can get rabbit meat in some supermarkets in the US. Lots of rural people eat squirrel as well, which is also a rodent.


34 posted on 11/22/2012 7:25:13 AM PST by PapaBear3625 (You don't notice it's a police state until the police come for you.)
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To: Cronos
Grass cutters...


35 posted on 11/22/2012 7:27:01 AM PST by Daffynition (Self-respect: the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious. ~ HLM)
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To: Cronos
If your squirrel stew tastes gamey you just don't know how to cook. After dressing and skinning let the meat soak in a mix of water and a portion (about 1/5 of the liquid) of vermouth in the fridge overnight. Yum.
36 posted on 11/22/2012 7:45:35 AM PST by jdsteel (Give me freedom, not more government.)
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To: Cronos
The new Emu.
37 posted on 11/22/2012 8:01:41 AM PST by E. Pluribus Unum (Government is the religion of the psychopath.)
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To: Farmer Dean

What did you think McNuggets were made from????

hehehehehe


38 posted on 11/22/2012 8:06:10 AM PST by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: Cronos

I’ll be more impressed when I see the Namibian Muppet on the menu.


39 posted on 11/22/2012 8:54:43 AM PST by Cold Heart
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To: COBOL2Java

have you ever tried it? i haven’t. Have tried rabbit, snail, snake, frogs etc. — not too bad.


40 posted on 11/22/2012 9:39:16 AM PST by Cronos (**Marriage is about commitment, cohabitation is about convenience.**)
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To: Safetgiver

how was the taste? i’d eat rice fed rodents too (actually have eaten rabbits, so not such a big difference)


41 posted on 11/22/2012 9:48:45 AM PST by Cronos (**Marriage is about commitment, cohabitation is about convenience.**)
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To: Cronos
have you ever tried it? i haven’t. Have tried rabbit, snail, snake, frogs etc. — not too bad.

Saw them featured in "Bizzare Foods", where they were called "cuy".

Yum!


42 posted on 11/22/2012 9:57:45 AM PST by COBOL2Java (The GOP-e said "Beat a Marxist with a Liberal!" What a colossal blunder.)
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To: bgill

Wait, they have to be approved to raise rats?

I wish we had to be approved to have rats in this country!

At least theirs don’t vote like our rats do.


43 posted on 11/22/2012 10:05:05 AM PST by B4Ranch (Stand Up and Be Counted ... Or Line Up and Be Numbered ...)
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To: Cronos
It's a shame in this case that "rat" has unpleasant connotations. In reality any small mammal not exposed to urban filth is as clean and safe as any other meat product.

It was human civilization that made rats dirty, not the other way around.

44 posted on 11/22/2012 10:06:05 AM PST by SWAMPSNIPER (The Second Amendment,a Matter of Fact,Not a Matter of Opinion)
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To: OldEagle

It is all in your head.


45 posted on 11/22/2012 10:07:56 AM PST by SWAMPSNIPER (The Second Amendment,a Matter of Fact,Not a Matter of Opinion)
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To: Farmer Dean
I think Rat-In-The-Box beat them to it.
46 posted on 11/22/2012 5:30:07 PM PST by Erasmus (Zwischen des Teufels und des tiefen, blauen Meers)
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To: Cronos

When I was stationed in Sicily, every Thursday I would eat at this little supper club only because Thursday was rabbit day...we had fried rabbit, saute’ed rabbit, rabbit stew....never knew how it would be cooked, but it was always great


47 posted on 11/27/2012 7:35:12 AM PST by Docbarleypop
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