Elle Kaye doesn't just stuff dead animals. She eats them, too.
And soon a handful of waste-conscious Londoners will follow her lead. As part of the upcoming Feast food festival at Tobacco Dock this weekend, Kaye will host an "Eat Your Taxidermy" class starring a dead rabbit. Kaye, who studied fine art at Loughborough University before turning to taxidermy, will instruct participants in the art of breaking down and reconstructing the animal, while chef Alex Armstrong turns Thumper's insides into a nose to bunny-tail dish.
We had a chance to ask Kaye a few questions about event, and why we should use as much of an animal as possible.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Elle. So, an edible taxidermy class! How did you conceive of that? Elle Kaye: The collaboration came about when Feast realized there was the potential to look at the eating of taxidermy, after England has seen a resurgence in taxidermy across art and culture, especially in London. As a professional taxidermist, I have been eating the meat from my specimens for a long while now, so I was keen to help explore and collaborate on this.
I'm assuming you won't be slaughtering the rabbits yourself. Where do they come from? The rabbits come from a company called The Wild Meat Co, based in Suffolk. Their meat is harvested from their own neighbouring farms where they have a vast selection of game and mammals. Being close to the coast, they are fortunate in having a large number of migratory birds.
What about the animals you usually work with? Where do they come from? Other animals I work on are donated to me from farmers and aviculturists across the country who loose animals when breeding, are roadkill, or are deceased through natural causes.
Do you eat those animals, too? I eat most of the meat from specimens I work on (within reason). All the game I work on, from pheasant to venison, I eat. I've learnt basic butchery which allows me to extract what I need and refrigerate it as I'm working on it. The same applies to birds. As soon as I make the initial incision to reveal the breast bone, I can breast the meat immediately, and then continue working.
What led you to taxidermy? I got involved in taxidermy several years ago through my interest in animal biology and anatomy. Growing up, I always wanted to study veterinary science, but I pursued a creative career and moved into sculpture and fine art. The idea of deconstructing something and reconstructing it successfully is an amazing feeling as a sculptor, but as a taxidermist, if I can make an animal look realistic again, and do it justice, it's all worth it. Being able to conserve an animal and preserve it after life is such a fantastic thing for education, and conservation.
Has taxidermy changed your feelings about meat consumption and the meat industry? I've always been a meat eater, and I've always advocated for better animal production services and care, refusing to eat meat from various sources where the treatment of animals is bad. I utilize every component of the animal doing what I do—nothing gets wasted. The idea of recycling a deceased animal is only supported by ensuring every part is used. I think this strengthens the whole notion of taxidermy, and upholds its value on reuse and recycling.
And at Feast, how will the rabbit meat be prepared? I have no idea how Alex will be preparing the meat, I've been kept in the dark about it so it will be as much of a surprise for me as it is the attendees!
Thanks for speaking with me. Good luck this weekend, but you've probably got enough rabbit's feet to ensure that anyway.