August 10, 2009 by korshi
If you live in, or visit, Australia for any length of time, chances are someone will tell you that it’s the only country to eat an animal from its coat of arms. Now it’s true that kangaroo steaks and burgers are fairly common in Australian cooking, even if they have yet to challenge beef, pork or chicken for ubiquity, and emus are also farmed for their meat, although it’s even less common. But, being sceptical by nature, I’ve always wondered whether this little nugget is really true; I mean, Brits don’t eat unicorns or lions, but surely some other national emblems find themselves on the plate every now and then? So yesterday I finally decided to do some research, this consisting mainly of looking at the Wikipedia page listing national coats of arms, and keeping my eyes out for any edible looking critters.
Before I let you in on my fascinating discoveries, I should probably mention my criteria. Several coats of arms include plants, but I didn’t count these. I also tried to limit my search to the supporters of the coat of arms (where they fitted the traditional European design) rather than animals which just appeared on the shield. Finally, human beings have probably eaten just about every animal on the planet at some point or another, but to make it fair I tried to only count animals eaten with some regularity, which includes, surprisingly, armadillos and zebra, but not lions or eagles. Horses are a difficult case, but I couldn’t find a country where it both appeared as a supporter and was a common source of meat. Obviously extinct animals didn’t count, otherwise I could have included Mauritius with its dodo. In some cases, it was a bit hard to prove that a particular animal is eaten in a particular country using only the internet, but if I was able to find evidence that it was used as a source of food in that general area, I counted it as a hit.
Ok, so what did I discover? Well, of the 200 or so countries whose coats of arms I looked at, most didn’t really eat their supporting animals, probably because they were generally powerful predators (lions, eagles or bears), human beings or mythical animals. Which is understandable, since people tend to look down on farm animals, seeing them as none too bright and too common to be particularly interesting. The exceptions to this rule are Chad, whose arms are supported by a goat rampant, and Iceland, which has a bull symbolising the local spirit (landvaettir) of the southwestern part of the country.
Fish are also surprisingly common among island nations: the vibrant coat of arms of the Bahamas is supported by the marlin, Barbados by the odd looking dolphin fish and the Seychelles by two swordfish.
Then we get into slightly weirder territory: Eritrea‘s coat of arms features a camel, which apparently tastes something like horse. Botswana‘s features two zebras and Zimbabwe‘s has two curly-horned kudus. I suppose they probably taste like horse too. And finally Grenada‘s features a little armadillo; if you ever find yourself with a cut of Grenadan armadillo be careful to cook it thoroughly, since it’s apparently a common carrier of leprosy.
So next time someone tells you that pernicious lie about Australia being the only country to eat its national emblem, you’ll know better.