You can always count on the British media to sensationalize a serious story about African affairs.
Look at yesterday’s report in the august Daily Mail of London, where a headline screams, “customs officer seize hundreds of headless rats destined for London restaurants.” On further examination, the so-called rats, which have been smoked to preserve their meat and improve flavor, are reportedly destined for “African diners.”
Now set aside for a moment the casual British dismissal of the Other implied in the story: after all, these African diners are mostly, and most certainly, British citizens or residents of African descent. Let’s merely concentrate on the rats themselves. These are not your garden-variety urban rats, but giant rodents, enormous, fast-moving bush rats whose size can rival that of a domestic cat or even a small dog. My wife once served me one of these smoked delicacies during our courtship phase in Accra. Her name for these rodents is “grasscutter.” Everyone else in Ghana calls them the same name.
“Grasscutter” are even bred for slaughter in Ghana, though the most common means of acquiring them is capture in the bush. Along side most rural roads in the country, young men smoke the rodents on open fires and they fetch — in remote parts of the country — impressive prices. Even in Accra, a well prepared grasscutter can cost ten dollars.
No surprise then that grasscutter turns up in London, home to a large number of the world’s wealthiest Africans, who now make the metropolis their permanent home.
The Daily Mail speculates that grasscutter carry diseases. And the sub-text is clear: Africans carry diseases too. Unfair to the unnamed British scribe who penned the article? I dare not believe. Go to his very words, carefully selected to allow a wide berth for his anti-African views:
“experts fear the unrefrigerated meat is capable of carrying diseases such as foot-and-mouth, anthrax, the Ebola virus, TB and cholera.”
Fear! Fear indeed. The heart of darkness arrives on the streets of London in the form of … headless rats! And smoked for superior taste!
To be honest, I never went mad for grasscutter, which carries an arresting aroma and, even well smoked, is chewy in the extreme. Still, my wife, who hails from Nigeria, ate insects in her youth — fresh and fried. Served in a sauce, grasscutter — or, if you prefer, headless rats of the giant African variety — indeed satisfy both hunger and the desire for the extraordinary meal.