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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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Robert Sullivan knows more about their eating habits of rats than most. He spent a couple of years studying the rats in an alley near Broadway and City Hall in New York City. The result is the can’t-put-it-down Rats , a bestseller that’s as much about New York as its most unwanted inhabitants.

“The diet of the city rat is garbage, the refuse of man,” writes Sullivan. “But which garbage? Which particular kind of refuse? And exactly how much trash does a rat eat?”

One rat trapper in Baltimore doing rat research long before Sullivan’s time made a list from his observations. Apparently the garbage-food rats most liked (in order of descending appeal) were scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, cooked corn kernels, cooked potatoes and cooked oatmeal. Hmmm, big carb hunters.

The food they least liked were raw beets, peaches, raw celery, cooked cauliflower, grapefruit and raw cauliflower. Sounds like a kid’s food pick and no-go lists to me.

After spending a whole summer tracking his alley rats at a discreet distance — Sullivan didn’t want to interfere with their behaviour — he concluded that the food rats scurrying around inside black plastic garbage bags loved most, fought over most was chicken pot pie. Ratatouille ‘s sophisticated Remy would be oh so disappointed.


Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who will sneak a peak at the Year of the Rat parade, and the neighbourhood rats, in Vancouver’s Chinatown February 10.

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