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Feb 7, 2012 02:34 PM

Did Bambi Ruin it Forever in America? [moved from Home Cooking]

I am always looking to expand my eating/cooking experiences. I frequently try to cook something beyond the "norm," -- the standard fare of chicken, pork, and fish so common in our grocery stores over here. I notice that many fellow Americans shy away from eating foods like rabbit, lamb, and venison, etc. Why? Isn't variety the spice of life?

Consider the animated film, "Bambi."
Like many youngsters, I watched the movie and was slightly horrified when a hunter shot Bambi's mother cold stone dead during a crucial scene; leaving the young deer a frightened orphan in the deep, dark woods. His only friend was an equally-cute young rabbit. I don't recall any cute young lambs in the film, but perhaps Disney should have thrown in a couple for good measure.

Young, soft, baby deer, rabbits, or lambs have immense doubt about it. An unblinking, cold, gasping fish doesn't have nearly the same effect upon most of us. I can't picture myself snuggling up to a grown pig, cow, or chicken for that matter. No offense to those that do.

Is it simply possible that many Americans cannot abide eating animals that are deemed "cute?" Is this a cultural phenomenon fueled by our exposure to movies that idealize the love of animals?

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  1. Not in this part of the country. I know lots and lots of folks that only eat the wild game they kill. Their freezers are full of venison, antelope, elk, and a few rabbits and ducks. Lamb is popular, too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wyogal

      Same here. Then again, I live pretty close to where wyogal lives :)

    2. "Is it simply possible that many Americans cannot abide eating animals that are deemed "cute?"
      This is very possible. Though i don't think Bambi is solely to blame, nor are movies in general.

      1. Here in the rural south many folks eat venison and other game. My brother lives in WY and they eat venison, elk and antelope.

        I love lamb, went to a couple of the higher end stores this past weekend hoping to find a shoulder. None to be found, ended up buying a package of neck bones for about $5/lb. The racks were $19/lb. A lot of folks aren't going to buy a package of meat for $40 that would barely feed their family and hope the kids would eat it.

        I think another problem is the disconnect between people and food. I keep chickens and kill the excess roosters and less desirable pullets and hens for meat. Many chicken owners will go to inordinate lengths to "re-home" a bird that they don't want for whatever reason.

        1. I don't think cuteness is a prime issue, but maybe it's one factor. I think the people most likely to resist foods like rabbit and lamb are those who tend to quite conventional and narrow in many aspects of life, the "white-bread" or even "Wonder bread" set.

          They seem often to have a rather distant relation to the actual production of foods, and it suits them to have tidy packages, a minimum of bones and butchering prep, familiar and often rather bland flavors, etc. They also won't eat ugly animals, if it's not something they're used to. Monkfish, anyone?

          Of course, there will be exceptions to all these ideas (for example, someone who will eat the familiar spicy buffalo chicken wings but will retch at beef bulgogi.)

          1. Aside from lambs, most of the animals you listed are not typically farmed in North America. I think people are more likely to eat animals that are already dead and packaged nicely on the shelf. Hunting takes skill, resources and proximity to wild animals (something unavailable to people who live in urban areas). And while I realise it is completely hypocritical, and I understand that hunting animals is far more humane than the way animals are treated at most commercial farms, I would have trouble shooting an animal and watching it die in front of me. I don't think I'm alone with this feeling, and I think any aversion to hunting game comes from the fact that in much of North American society, killing animals has been separated entirely from eating them. Until deer and rabbits are farmed commercially, I doubt they will ever be as popular as beef, chicken or pork.

            Now, I do think that the cute thing may make some people reluctant to eat baby animals, such as lamb or veal. In general, North Americans have a very sentimental attitude toward young things. Additionally, humans are hardwired to nurture things that are vulnerable (at least to an extent). Finding companionship with animals is not something that was created for movies -- people have had pets, and loved them, for thousands of years. Of course, people have also been eating animals for thousands of years. But the number of cultures and religions that have put significance on which animals are eaten and when they are eaten and how they are eaten and how they are killed... I dunno. It seems to me that lots of people have struggled with the idea of killing and eating animals.

            Personally, I have no problem eating lamb or veal, or any meat, except for the fact that lamb is so frickin' expensive and my boyfriend has an aversion to veal because he once worked in a slaughterhouse where he had to stack dead calves all day. It's an interesting question, but I suspect that the answer's way more complicated than "cuddle-appeal" and I suspect that people who don't eat game or baby animals all have different reasons for their decisions. Honestly, economic factors may be the most important. If lamb cost $2/lb, my guess is it would be way more popular than it is.

            ETA: An interesting side note, the American movie Bambi was actually based on an Austrian novel that was very popular during the 1920's. I wonder if the book had any effect on Austrian eating habits.

            35 Replies
            1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

              I know that the OP targetted the thread at an American readership, but Bambi was shown extensively in the English speaking world and, presumably, was also dubbed into other languages. I've never previously seen a suggestion that a cartoon has generally affected a nation's eating habits. I think the answer probably lies elsewhere.

              Where I am, lamb is a very common and reasonably priced meat and the cuddly nature of the animal appears to have no general deterrent effect on eating habits. Farmed deer and rabbit is usually available in the supermarkets and wild, locally shot, meat is available at farmers markets and more specialist butchers. I suspect the main deterrent effect to eating venison is one of cost (and unfamiliarity with the meat) - it's generally priced as a luxury product. Rabbit, I think, has just fallen out of fashion - no doubt dating to the fears over myxomatosis in the 1950s.

              1. re: Harters

                In most U.S. states it is illegal to sell wild meat. Therefore, unless you hunt, or have a friend who is a hunter, you cannot obtain it. The farmed versions are ususally very expensive. I think this largely explains why game meat isn't commonly eaten except in communities where many people hunt.

                1. re: visciole

                  Yes, I'd understood that was the case in America. A strange law to my mind.

                  1. re: Harters

                    In Minnesota, and other states with similar laws I suppose, the reason it is illegal for an individual to sell wild game is because if it were legal to sell game and fish, it would encourage poaching. We already have problems with poachers without a way for them to easily sell their illgotten goods.

                    1. re: John E.

                      Seems an stance for a legal system to take.

                      If it was legal to sell stolen televisions, it would encourage burglars to to steal televisions.

                      But, hey, different cultures apply in different countries. I stopped trying to fathom why some countries are like they are some years ago.

                      1. re: Harters

                        The television analogy doesn't really work because there is not a season on televisions where they can be taken legally with the purchase of a license.

                      2. re: John E.

                        One doesn't have control over what the wild game eats.

                        1. re: wyogal

                          I don't understand the point you are trying to make and/or why it is directed at me.

                          1. re: John E.

                            oh we all know how easy it is to respond to the wrong person. I think WG's point is since there's no real way of quantifying the quality of the meat (god knows what they found out there), retail sales would be difficult to manage (in addition to your comment on poaching)

                            1. re: hill food

                              That's the part I don't get, the part about not knowing what wild game eat. I know what the wild game that I harvest are eating.

                              1. re: John E.

                                what they eat on your land yes, but who knows what toxic waste might be on your neighbors land (that's grounds for another thread "why don't deer or grouse respect a barbed wire fence, I mean really!". I personally don't think it's much of an issue and your point of poaching makes more sense, but the USDA can't exactly examine each hunted carcass for commercial sale. I'm not squicky and might buy some from a neighbor, but then we have good neighbors and then we have some I wouldn't trust with a burnt out match.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  i guess i disagree, and think that the system that Harters is accustomed to in the u.k. is much more sensible and civilized. there, game brokers can sell wild game to butchers or restaurants, and even folks who don't hunt or can't hunt or have no hunting equipment/license can go purchase a woodcock or two and have a game dinner, or eat non-farmed, premium game in a restaurant; and the government can keep very close tabs on wildlife populations.

                                  it seems pretty inequitable that serious game eaters in the u.s. can't legally obtain a venison roast or a wild boar chop, unless they have the ways and means to personally hunt it. this is doubly true because there are many areas of the country where the deer and feral pig populations are very destructive and problematic-- so why not let some of this meat be sold to folks who would like to enjoy it but can't because of age, handicap, access problem... or restaurants (and restaurant patrons) would be very glad for it. i think it's just patently absurd that in my area hunters can donate a venison kill to the food shelf, but it's illegal to sell the meat to folks who would gladly pay to serve venison for the autumn holidays. "oh, you're blind? well i suppose you'll never taste venison. oh, but if you go on welfare, then we will give you a voucher for venison, and i suppose you get to try it after all." whut the hell? y'know?

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    I agree but we in the US will sue you for your underwear over nothing (and nothing personal as I rather doubt I would want yours, yet I hope you get my point).

                                    I feel it's absurd that the trophy hunters often leave the carcass where felled as many do and so some indeed donate the meat to shelters (no indignation here - I just hope the shelters cook it right, sorta like PETA redistributing fur coats in Afghanistan and other cold climes)

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      Hunting in the UK is nothing like hunting in the US. In the UK hunting is for the rich. It is an expensive sport and has a much different tradition than hunting in the US. There are liability issues that factor into why wild game taken by hunters is not allowed to be sold to meat brokers and sold to stores and the general public. Chronic wasting disease is a problem in some western states, and parts of Wisconsin too. CWD is similar to mad cow disease. Although CWD is a contagious fatal disease among deer and elk, research suggests that humans, cattle and other domestic livestock are resistant to natural transmission. While the possibility of human infection remains a concern, it is important to note there have been no verified cases of humans contracting CWD. That is reason enough to not allow hunters to sell venison.

                                      Venison and other 'wild' game is available to purchase that has been raised on game farms whose herds have been inspected.

                                      In Minnesota venison donated to food shelves is not donated directly from the hunter to the food shelf. The deer are donated to specific meat processors and then it goes to the food shelf.

                      3. re: visciole

                        The "non-traditionals" such as rabbit, pheasant, duck, etc. are expensive because demand is low. I'm in Minnesota, and it's virtually impossible to find rabbit. Rabbit. In Philadelphia, many butcher stores stocked rabbit, whereas here, most butchers won't even order it for you if you ask. Interestingly, the best place to find the "non-traditionals" in Minnesota is the Asian food stores, where one can find quail, duck, goat, etc. But at the standard supermarkets, it's chicken, pork, and beef. Whatever lamb is available is extremely expensive.

                        This availability reflects in large part the palate. Folks eat venison that they hunt, but otherwise, it's a very meat & potatoes / green bean hot dish crowd.

                        1. re: foreverhungry

                          I don't think demand is low for those.
                          Know many that would gladly incorporate such in regular meals.
                          But at $10/lb for a frozen rabbit that weighs 2 lbs
                          $20 for verry little meat
                          Although rabbits are quick breeders, don't think they are the easiest to raise disease free
                          Just as they have a high birth rate, they also have a high mortality rate,
                          And a high metabolism,

                          1. re: terasec

                            I don't know anything about rabbit breeding. But I know that when I lived in Philly, I could walk into any butcher at the Italian Market, and they had rabbits. Fresh. And they weren't anywhere near $10 a pound. Demand there for rabbit seemed to be high enough that several butchers carried fresh, and many more frozen. And at much lower a price than $10 a pound - it was certainly cheap enough that I could afford it as a graduate student. That was about 10 years ago, maybe times have changed. But in Philly, rabbit was more common on menus. Not so much in Minnesota. Here, in MN, when I talk about rabbit to folks from here, they look at me like I said I was going to fry up sparrow wings. Demand in this neck of the woods for rabbit is low. Ditto with goat. I mention to folks I've had goat at a Tibetan restaurant, and coworkers say, "Oh, but you'll eat just about anything", and friends' eyes open as wide as dinner plates. At the state fair, there was a booth selling camel. The first question folks asked was if I tried the camel, and when I said yes, they giggled and asked what it tasted like, and seemed shocked that something like camel could actually be eaten. If it's not an animal that's served at McD's, then it's considered exotic here, and thus demand is low. There doesn't seem to be the understanding that meat is muscle, and at that level, the animal it comes from doesn't matter. But for some reason, cow is accepted as edible, but rabbit and camel aren't. I don't get it.

                            1. re: foreverhungry

                              Locality might be part of it,
                              I live in NYC, where I bought my rabbits for $9.95/lb was an Italian food importer,
                              Their retail prices are generally reasonable,
                              Haven't bought rabbit at other markets.
                              In mn. Demand might be less because more people hunt their own.

                              1. re: terasec

                                When I moved to MN I was excited about the prospect of hunting rabbits. No deal - apparently not a lot of rabbits here. Bummer.

                              2. re: foreverhungry

                                goat and lamb are very much in demand in mn, and the mainstream supermarkets sometimes don't choose to carry these meats because they can't compete very well with the mexican or halal markets on price. rabbit is more common on restaurant menus and at farmer's markets--one of the big criticisms of an msp restaurant that recently closed was that there was too much rabbit on the menu and that it was boring. i can't really speak to the popularity of camel generally, but your friends don't sound like regional food authorities. i like that i can go to a grocery store and pick up bison in this area, i don't know if i would trade that for cheap rabbits--good access to both would be preferable of course.

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  SK - we can agree to disagree on the demand issue. I never said lamb wasn't in demand, but it is very expensive. Goat is popular with one ethnic group, and can be found in ethnic markets, like I said in an above post. But with very very few exceptions, goat isn't on menus. Rabbit can be found, yes, at the STP Farmer's market (haven't seen it at any others), by special order thru the butcher at MGM, and at Clancey's. Haven't seen it at any other butchers or markets. But no matter where you get it form, it's expensive, much more expensive than it is in other areas of the US, which, I contend, is based on lack of demand. Is the restaurant you're referring to Il Gatto?

                                  I like that I can pick up bison too, but bison is generally only offered ground. If you look hard, you can find other bison products, but ground is generally what's available, and frozen at that. At $8.99 a pound and up for ground bison, I'd personally take cheap rabbits.

                                  With the exception of recently immigrated ethnic groups, and ethnic restaurants and markets, demand for the non-traditionals is more limited here than in other parts of the country,

                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                    We can find other forms of bison here quite readily, in the supermarket, as well as natural grocers.

                            2. re: foreverhungry

                              FWIW, the popular supermarket meats that are less expensive than the "non-traditionals" are subsidized, no?

                              1. re: artichokeenvy

                                The camel thing reminds me of a funny story. Back when I was in colledge, there was a tradtion that, about 4 times a year, a serioulsy upscale resturaunt would come to campus and for one week (one day per dining hall) they would dictatae and cook the menu. One season, the resto that was doing it was a Cajun place, and one of the appetizers they were serving were fried alligator cutlets. A lot of people (myself included, liked these a lot) a few days later, I was being swiped in to the hall (that's how you paid, they swiped your student ID) and the people behind me were talking about the cutlets. However they were both sure that they had been chicken on the grounds that "people don't eat alligator" when I (and the person who swiped) confirmed that, in fact they HAD been alligator, you should have seen their faces turn green and them rush right back up the stairs out of the Dining Hall!

                                1. re: jumpingmonk

                                  monk - what a cool idea, I wish my dorm system had done something like that. I might not have been so anxious to move off campus.

                                  1. re: jumpingmonk

                                    It's O.K., kinda greasy, kinda like rattlesnake.

                                  2. re: artichokeenvy

                                    well, for sure, the corn that is fed to them is subsidized.

                                  3. re: foreverhungry

                                    I have seen rabbit and pheasant in Byerly's stores. It isn't cheap however. I'm not paying $10 a pound for rabbit. Somewhere in this thread someone said that when they moved to Minnesota they thought there would be rabbit hunting and were surprised to find that there is not. Well, there is and there are a lot of rabbits in Minnesota. It's just that most of them are cottontails and there just is not much meat on them. The tradition of hunting cottontails and gray squirrels is dropping off substantially. There are snowshoe hares in northern Minnesota that are large enough to eat but they are not easy to hunt.

                                    1. re: John E.

                                      That was me that made the comment about hunting. Yes, I've seen the cottontails in my backyard (eating my broccoli sprouts!), but have rarely seen rabbits while pheasant hunting, which is when I'd see rabbits when hunting in Pennsylvania. It's entirely possible that I'm just not in the right spots, but after spending a significant amount of time hiking in various areas of MN, I haven't seen as many rabbits as I thought I would.

                                      Agreed, I've seen rabbits and pheasants for $10 a pound in Byerly's and other high level stores/butchers, and yes, that's a tough price to pay. I'm still surprised that it costs so much.

                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                        Like somebody else said, there just isn't the demand for rabbit. I have not shot either a cottontail or a snowshoe hair for years, although we've been talking about snowshoe hair hunting on our property in Itasca County for a couple of years now, we just have not done it. I have a cousin who raises meat rabbits in a hutch in his backyard, he's promised to give me a couple rabbits for a while now but I don't get to his place too often (Red Wing).

                                        1. re: John E.

                                          It is true, demand for rabbit here is low. I think there's a bit more demand for rabbit in some areas of the East Coast, perhaps in part because of the higher concentration of French and Italian immigrants and descendents. I remember seeing and having purchased rabbit in several butchers in Philly's Italian market, but that was over ten years ago, and I don't know if times have changed. One butcher in particular had fresh rabbit on a regular basis, suggesting that it was at least popular enough to carry fresh.

                                          I'd like to raise meat rabbits in a hutch, but ms. FH won't let me - she named a rabbit that my uncle was raising in France within 5 minutes of meeting it. "Coco" won't end up on the dinner table.

                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                            The only rabbit I have eaten is those that we shot and one time in Europe. Years ago my dad had a live trap and he caught rabbits that were eating his apple trees. We never ate any of those however. He had a friend down the street that raised silver and blue foxes and we gave them to him to feed to them.

                                        2. re: foreverhungry

                                          Like somebody else said, there just isn't the demand for rabbit. I have not shot either a cottontail or a snowshoe hair for years but I remember seeing them quite a bit when we used to pheasant hunt in SW Minnesota. Although we've been talking about snowshoe hair hunting on our property in Itasca County for a couple of years now, we just have not done it. I have a cousin who raises meat rabbits in a hutch in his backyard, he's promised to give me a couple rabbits for a while now but I don't get to his place too often (Red Wing).

                                          1. re: John E.

                                            I raise chickens for meat and eggs but my wife flatly refuses to eat bunny rabbit.

                                            She complained for weeks about a rabbit that was eating her flowers. I caught the wascal wed handed, fixed him with a 12 gauge and then a skillet for supper. She ate one bite and turned pale. It was not my cooking either, the rabbit was delicious.

                                            I have never eaten domestic rabbit, would like to try it someday.

                                            1. re: kengk

                                              I might see if I can locate a live trap and get me some out of season bunnies. (By the way, backyard rabbits, black birds, and squirrels at your bird feeder would be the only 'poaching' in which I might participate).