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Rat meat is a food that, while taboo in some cultures, is a dietary staple in others. Taboos include fears of disease or religious prohibition, but in many places, the high number of rats has led to their incorporation into the local diets.
In some cultures, rats are or have been limited as an acceptable form of food to a particular social or economic class. In the Mishmi culture of India, rats are essential to the traditional diet, as Mishmi women may eat no meat except fish, pork, wild birds and rats. Conversely, the Musahar community in north India has commercialised rat farming as an exotic delicacy.
Bandicoot rats are an important food source among some peoples in Southeast Asia, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated rat meat makes up half the locally produced meat consumed in Ghana, where cane rats are farmed and hunted for their meat. African slaves in the American South were known to hunt wood rats (among other animals) to supplement their food rations, and Aborigines along the coast in southern Queensland, Australia, regularly included rats in their diet.
Ricefield rats (Rattus argentiventer) have traditionally been used as food in rice-producing regions such as Valencia, as immortalized by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in his novel Cañas y barro. Along with eel and local beans known as garrafons, rata de marjal (marsh rat) is one of the main ingredients in traditional paella (later replaced by rabbit, chicken and seafood). Ricefield rats are also consumed in the Philippines, the Isaan region of Thailand, and Cambodia. In late 2008, Reuters reported the price of rat meat had quadrupled in Cambodia, creating a hardship for the poor who could no longer afford it.
France has several regions where people consume rat. A recipe for grilled rats, Bordeaux-style, calls for the use of alcoholic rats who live in wine cellars. These rats are skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels.
Elsewhere in the world, rat meat is considered diseased and unclean, socially unacceptable, or there are strong religious proscriptions against it. Islam and Kashrut traditions prohibit it, while both the Shipibo people of Peru and Sirionó people of Bolivia have cultural taboos against the eating of rats.
In the traditional cultures of the Hawaiians and the Polynesians, rat was an everyday food for commoners. When feasting, the Polynesian people of Rapa Nui could eat rat meat, but the king was not allowed to, due to the islanders' belief in his "state of sacredness" called tapu. In studying precontact archaeological sites in Hawaii, archaeologists have found the concentration of the remains of rats associated with commoner households accounted for three times the animal remains associated with elite households. The rat bones found in all sites are fragmented, burned and covered in carbonized material, indicating the rats were eaten as food. The greater occurrence of rat remains associated with commoner households may indicate the elites of precontact Hawaii did not consume them as a matter of status or taste.
As food for pets
Rats are a common food item for snakes, both in the wild, and as pets. Adult rat snakes and ball pythons, for example, are fed a diet of mostly rats in captivity. Rats are readily available (live or frozen) to individual snake owners, as well as to pet shops and reptile zoos, from many suppliers. In Britain, the government prohibited the feeding of any live mammal to another animal in 2007. The rule says the animal must be dead before it is given to the animal to eat. The rule was put into place mainly because of the pressure of the RSPCA and people who said the feeding of live animals was cruel.
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