The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is investigating after an alarmed customer found whole, dead, frozen raccoons for sale in her local Asian market. It’s difficult to discern exactly what alarmed the customer most: the shock of discovering that yes people do eat raccoon, and yes raccoons are wild animals that forage for food waste, or that the deceased animals in question look rather more like road-kill-in-a-bag than the “game” they are legally classified as.
The “game” classification is important—in California it is perfectly legal to sell raccoon meat, as long as it comes from a licensed trapper. The LA DPH, for its part, is simply working to determine the origin of the meat and whether or not it is safe to eat—beyond that, it’s pretty much up to the stomach of the consumer.
In certain parts of the world—Asia—and in certain parts of the US—Louisiana—eating raccoon really isn’t all that strange. It’s not particularly difficult to buy and folks with access to old-world cook books or trust in online recipes can figure out how to prepare them. We’re told its much like dark meat chicken (of course).
This is not to say that you’ll see your host whip up a fricasseed raccoon next time you’re in New Orleans, but rather that it does happen. Much in the same way as other unsavory, but traditional items are pretty easy to pick up in parts of the US: frogs legs, snails and the like. There are entire online stores devoted to “exotic” meat.
In purely practical terms there are a couple of legitimate concerns one might have when faced with a raccoon, either in the meat freezer or your local park: they are known to carry rabies and a mess of other bacterial illnesses. But what is probably most disturbing in the case of the LA-area market raccoons is how they’re presented.
Vegetarians and vegans who abstain from animal consumption for ethical reasons are, very often, generally grossed out by the sight of a dead animal on a plate. Carnivores, on the other hand, have become accustomed to seeing their meat skinned, deboned and generally void of reminders that it was once a living breathing creature.
And so, frozen raccoon in a bag, much like shrink-wrapped piglet, becomes a horrifying sight.
As the concerned consumer told CBS News “The way it’s packaged in the store, it’s so real, and it’s so fresh, and you don’t see chickens with their feathers and blood all over them, and their expression, with their tongue hanging out.” In other words, the raccoon in the meat freezer looked too much like a dead animal.