At the Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal in Amsterdam, you can get many unfamiliar foods: geese and muskrats and horse, to name a few. These “pest dinners” consist only of meats that would otherwise go to the landfill–because people don’t think of them as food. They get the whimsical names–like My Little Pony Burger, the Bambi Ball, or the Peace Pigeon–that you’d expect from a food truck.
The geese, for example, come from the city’s airport; after the local goose population grew, the birds started interfering with air traffic and some were killed, but the meat was wasted. The food truck turns the meat into croquettes, and at some dinners, also pate and smoked brisket. The muskrats are an invasive rodent that lives in Amsterdam’s canals, rabbits come from the local train tracks.
“There are a lot of pigeons in the middle of the city, and people hate them,” says Rob Hagenouw, who started the project with fellow artist Nicolle Schatborn. “But they’re really nice to eat. Really nice.”
The My Little Pony Burger, as the name suggests, is made from horsemeat. Though people are squeamish about the idea of eating former pets, the chefs hope that it starts a conversation. “Some call us freaks offering such food,” says Schatborn. “That is a good thing. We do have issues to discuss.”
If people are unwilling to eat horses, for example, why do they eat cows? “I think it’s strange that people see chickens or cows only as food,” Hagenouw says. “At the supermarket, you don’t see them as animals–maybe you see a smiling pig on the package, but you see a small piece of meat and can’t tell if it’s the leg or the breast. You don’t see the animal in it.”
Conversely, the artists say, people should reconsider eating animals that are already being killed anyway, like the muskrat. “People talk about how it’s a pest, and they don’t see it as something to eat,” says Hagenouw. “It’s a kind of mindset that has to be changed.”
Though some people hesitate, most visitors to the food truck like the idea–even some vegetarians. “We have someone who follows us to festivals, and he’s completely vegetarian, but he eats our croquettes,” says Hagenouw. “He says this is the only meat he eats, because of the story behind it.”
The food truck and dinners have actually been so popular that the chefs have run into another problem: There’s only a limited supply of this food. “At dinners, we’re never sure what we’re going to serve,” he says. “It’s always a challenge.” At a recent dinner, they planned to serve coot, a type of water fowl, but then learned that the government had cancelled a hunting permit for the bird.
“At first I thought, why can’t we shoot some more–and then I thought, this is the essence of the Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal,” Hagenouw says. “It’s only the unwanted that we want to serve, and we only eat them because they are killed as pests.”