Why rabbit is the most sustainable meat for the city farmer.
Plus: How to cook it, and how to raise your own.
By Adam Starr
March 2, 2010
By now we all know that eating a lot of meat—especially factory-farmed meat—isn’t very good for the planet. Fortunately for meat eaters, some meats are more sustainable than others. And as it turns out, rabbit is one of the healthiest, leanest, and most environmentally friendly meats you can eat.
There are many reasons for this. Mark Pasternak of the famed Devil’s Gulch Ranch explains, “The biggest reason that rabbits are a sustainable meat choice is that they eat forage, which is not useful for humans. This means that rabbits don’t compete with us for food calories.” Rabbits are also, as Meatpaper editor and co-founder Sasha Wizansky points out, an ideal choice for urban farmers.
Rabbits are small and can easily be raised and butchered by the DIY homesteader. They are easy to fit in a small backyard, and are happy to help you compost your leftover food. “You can feed a rabbit on your kitchen scraps,” says Wizansky, and then use their waste as fertilizer. (Pasternak advises against feeding them too much fruit, however.)
Rabbits have a much smaller carbon footprint than other animals because they convert calories into pounds more efficiently. According to Slow Food USA, “Rabbit can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes a cow to produce just one pound.”
So, are rabbits poised to become the next American diet staple? “I don’t see rabbits taking over beef markets in the U.S.,” says Wizansky, “but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if they did.” Unlike Europeans, she notes, Americans have displayed a resistance to the idea of rabbits as food, but that seems to be changing.
Michael Pollan is on the bandwagon. When I ran into him at a recent rabbit butchery class, he had this to say: “Rabbit makes more sense than chickens in a lot of ways, and if people ate more rabbit, I think they would see that instantly. Rabbits are easier to slaughter, quieter, and not as stinky as chickens. I think it’s a really good solution. We have rabbits and chickens in our neighbor’s backyard, and we aren’t aware of the rabbits. It’s a cultural thing, we aren’t as accustomed to eating rabbits, but rabbit is becoming a fashionable meat.”