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When things get ratty

Or: what happens when you write a food column in the Year of the Rat

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I watched them for quite a while, scraping, scraping then rinsing that rat with their small hands in a bright turquoise plastic basin half filled with cool, clear water. They drew very little blood, given they were well practised, having already scraped clean three or four plump, glistening bluish-grey rat bodies that were piled in a heap. There were two more to go.

I suppose it wouldn’t be too bad eating rat meat, depending, of course, on what the rats themselves had eaten. Those jungle rats looked pretty healthy and given all the lush, fragrant flora around, they likely tasted quite delicious. Those two young girls certainly looked healthy.

Some people call the urban pigeons that accumulate in stinky, parasite-laden masses in city parks and plazas feathered rats, given their similarity in haunts and traits to the mammalian variety. I read once that before Ernest Hemingway earned his wealth and fame he survived in Paris by killing and eating pigeons. He said they weren’t too bad.

One small triangular shaped park not that far from Père-Lachaise Cemetery — which houses the bones of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and other assorted icons — offered particularly good hunting for nice, plump feathered rats (I only know it is triangular-shaped because I sat on a bench there and read the account about Hemingway).

In New Orleans and surrounding environs, they encourage locals to trap and eat nutrias, also known as nutra-rats; not to be confused with the prehistoric supra rat-like rodent, the   remains of which were recently found in Uruguay. It likely weighed a tonne when it roamed the Earth.

The nutria is a cross between a rodent and a beaver (think webbed feet, ratty face and long, pink scaly tail) that looks like a big fat wet rat if you ever see one in a southern swamp. This South American native was brought to North America for its fur and is now considered a real nuisance for all the water plants it munches on.

As for what rats eat before they are eaten, ask anyone who has had a rat problem and they’ll tell you it’s pretty well anything. Being the omnivorous creatures that they are with highly developed senses and a huge capability to climb, leap, gnaw, jump and burrow, they generally get into just about anything anywhere — grain, seeds, wild fruit, bugs, dog food, dead animals, edibles in compost heaps, groceries in your house and garbage, garbage, garbage. It all depends on where they live.

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