If you haven’t had a reason to look at a high school lunch menu in the past five or ten years (or, uh, 15) don’t worry: Absolutely nothing has changed. Take Potter-Dix Junior/Senior High School in Potter, Nebraska. Last week, the 78-person student body was served corn dogs, pizza, chili and pork chops, and each meal was accompanied by a carton of milk.
What the menu didn’t mention—and what administrators didn’t know at the time—was that Potter-Dix cook Kevin Frei would allegedly go rogue, adding kangaroo meat to the chili he served last Thursday. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but Potter-Dix Superintendent Mike Williams wrote a letter informing parents that it would not happen again. (We’d say Williams was hopping mad, but we’ve hated ourselves ever since we started wearing clear-frame glasses. Why make it worse?)
According to the Sandhills Express, Frei told Williams that he’d spiked the chili with kangaroo, and explained that he’d done it because of its “nutritional value.” (What Frei didn’t mention was where one acquires kangaroo meat in Potter, Nebraska, a town of 333 people that is more than 400 miles west of Omaha).
Williams quickly sent a letter to Potter-Dix parents, reassuring them that kangaroo meat was not “unhealthy or dangerous,” but promising them that it would not appear on plastic lunch trays again, not on his watch. “If a family wants to eat exotic foods, they can do so on their own time—not at school,” Williams wrote. “If we were to have food or ingredients that are out of the ordinary, they should be listed on the menu so that the students and families are aware of what they would be being served. We will no way be serving food of this nature again. Period.”
He also told parents that the meat had to be safe and inspected by the USDA in order for companies to sell it. (Or it has to meet the standards of Association of American Feed Control Official, which is a “voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds.” Kangaroo meat is also an ingredient offered by a number of dog food brands.)
Kangaroo meat is a bit of a culinary oddity, even in Australia. The country’s Department of the Environment and Energy explains that the sale of kangaroo meat for anything other than pet food was not permitted until 1993 (although it had been A-OK in South Australia since 1980). In the past 25 years since it became street-legal, the meat has appeared on an increasing number of restaurant menus, especially those specializing in “bush tucker”—or the ones who feed the kind of tourist (or, say, the kind of visiting Royals) who might assume that Australians eat an entire kangaroo carcass for breakfast.
In the past year, the number of wild kangaroos has increased dramatically, and ecologists have started encouraging Australians to consider maybe eating them once in a while. “If we're going to cull these animals we do it humanely, but we also perhaps should think about what we might use the animals that are killed for," David Paton told ABC News. (Why are Australians so reluctant to do this? It could be partially because kangaroos are the country’s national animal, or partially because older Australians grew up watching a TV show called Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, a Lassie-ish setup where that title collie was replaced by a super-smart ‘roo.)
Australia exported an estimated 3,000 tons of kangaroo meat to other countries in 2016/2017, including the United States. In the 1970s, the US had a temporary, almost decade-long ban on kangaroo meat, but the meat has not faced any import restrictions since. The only exception is the state of California, which reinstated a ban on all kangaroo products, including meat and hides, in 2015. (That 1970s ban was never lifted in the state, although there was a temporary moratorium from 2007 until 2015).
Back at Potter-Dix Junior/Senior High School, chili isn’t on the menu again during the month of October. On Halloween, the cafeteria will be serving “Witches Brew, Baked Brains and Poison Apples,” which should be fine... as long as none of the “brains” came from kangaroos.