Q&A with Rob Hagenouw,
Co-founder of Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal
Q: What makes you stand out?
A: We’re out to challenge people’s perceptions of what constitutes food. Most people have been really interested in our ‘waste’ meat, and only a few have objected to us serving (former pet) horses or culled geese in particular. One lady accused us of being ‘horrible’ but she said she ate factory farmed chicken. Free-range geese have a far better quality of life than intensively-reared chickens. We also try to use every part of the animal or bird and support a number of people locally who help us process our geese; a specialist smokes the goose breast, a nearby chefs training college cooks the legs, and a soup factory gets the most out of the rest of the carcass.
Q: Why do you care?
A: When I discovered how many geese were shot at Schiphol airport, because of the mess they made, I wanted to know where all the carcasses went. I couldn’t believe it when I learned that they were turned into pet food or left to decompose. What a waste. Now a lot of people in The Netherlands are talking about geese – nobody was in 2010 when we first started serving it. And some businesses have even started selling culled goose meat now, which is great because we couldn’t possibly serve up all of the geese culled each year ourselves and less is now going to waste. We also serve crow meat; crows are shot because they eat crops but again, nobody is eating them. Early in 2015 we were able to establish relationships with some crow hunters, who now supply us with a few of them. Because crows eat everything and anything, their meat has a wonderful, strong taste. We’ve been using crow recipes from the Middle Ages!
Q: Is being responsible good for business?
A: We’re using meat that would mostly be wasted, or at least not used for human consumption, so bringing that waste into the food chain makes sense and does stack up financially.
Q: Has the business changed you?
A: I have never been a big meat eater but factory-farmed chicken for example makes even less sense to me now, seeing how their lives contrast with the free-range birds we cook. Most of the meat I do eat is meat we have cooked. This business has also made me question things more than ever; if someone tells me I should walk in a straight line, I want to know what happens if I don’t!
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I see our food truck as a story-telling kitchen because while we’ve been telling the stories behind the meat we serve, people have been eager to tell their own stories of what animals or birds they’ve eaten or seen wasted; we’ve learned about a lot of unwanted animals via our customers. Then comes the challenge; how to reduce the wastage. I always like investigating a new problem that hasn’t yet been solved.
Q: Plans for the future?
A: Muskrats were imported for their fur from North America in the 1860s. We don’t serve a lot of them because most hunters are from the Government department that deals with managing the dykes for flood protection; muskrats are culled because they gnaw at these structures. And you’re not allowed to sell muskrat meat or fur because it would encourage people to breed them. Around 140,000 are killed each year but they are all incinerated. And despite the culling over the past 80 years, the population it seems has actually grown! So there still needs to be a solution to that waste problem. I’m optimistic – in February, a local election candidate talked about the ‘muskrat issue’ during his campaign. New unwanted animals keep appearing; it might be a while yet before we’re no longer needed.