Fancy some rabbit and squirrel gravy for breakfast?
(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)
West Virginia has some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the United States. Unfortunately, the region also suffers from one of the highest poverty rates in the country. But once a year, for the past 24 years, the money flows and a few entrepreneurs cash in.
They are the ones who were recently cooking up some tasty dishes from animals oftentimes scraped off the radiator grills of passing motorists. Welcome to Marlington, W.Va.’s “Roadkill Cooking Festival,” where an estimated 12,000 people from all over came to sample everything from stewed black bear (mixed with beans and chili), possum, elk and reptiles sometimes smothered in rabbit and squirrel gravy — all cooked to perfection for the hungry crowd.
It’s a way of life, and as reported by BBC.com, the festival’s organizers and amateur chefs want to remind us all that food shouldn’t be wasted and that there’s nothing wrong with eating rugged. Oh, and making a buck or two along the way.
“The festival is a tremendous income for the whole county,” organizer Ben Wilfong told BBC. “People here grow up with families who don’t have a lot.” The event, he says, generates tens of thousands of dollars for the town.
The festival is really just your typical cooking competition – except that points are deducted if asphalt or gravel is found in the food. And for only $5, visitors can get access to all that good eating. Not everything sold here is roadkill but eaters aren’t told what is and that little secret just adds “to the squeamish atmosphere.” The locally sourced quail meatballs were a big seller. The iguana tacos? Not so much.
“People make fun of us, but we also make fun of them,” another organizer told the U.K. network. “You have to work with what’s unique in your area to make tourism work.” And in an area hit hard by the collapse of the coal mining industry, some smart entrepreneurs have figured out how to capitalize on their own locally-sourced…uh…delicacies.