Eating Godwits

After 11,000 kilometres you’d think the humble godwit would be worthy of our respect, even awe. Not our dinner plates.

I’d always thought of them as the quintessential NZ battler braving the real winds of international free trade. And here Kingi Ihaka, bless his gastronomic magnificence, is heralding the return of the godwit with the return of the godwit burger.


Television 3 News : 10 September 2008

Apparently there are ‘squillions’ of them where he comes from up North. They said that about passenger pigeons at one point too. Apparently, “Godwits need to ‘pay their dues’. I suppose he has got a point. I mean, they really are a pack of avionic bludgers. Fly in, feed up and bugger off again. What do they think our sand spits are? A hotel? No he is right. Godwits owe us. Big time. Every year they fly half-way round the world to help themselves to a free buffet on our coasts and when was the last time you got a thank you note from a godwit? Although to be honest I could say the same of babies. They just hang around and eat for the first few years of life without much pay back and I don’t see them featuring on any menus. Yet.

Unlike babies, godwits are organic, local and free and it’s so ‘now’ to go all feral and forage your food from the surroundings. I get it. But so do the indigenous people of Alaska. Their average annual kill is up to 1,900 birds. Apparently this is mainly by subsistence farmers and to be fair, I’d be doing the same if I had no other option to feed the kids. On the east coast of China however the estimated take is up to 3000 migrating godwits per year, where, thankfully, the rise in the average price of live waders (mostly godwits) at market, has greatly exceeded increases in inflation and average incomes, making it more than worthwhile for the hunters to continue. What a relief. If the stock market goes into a nose dive we can always fall back on godwits then.

Is nothing sacred? Not really. Your sacred cow could well be my Big Mac. Sarah Palin eats caribou.
That’s Santa’s reindeer last time I checked. Rudolf, Dancer, Blitzen. It’s all just lunch to Sarah. But then, that is not surprising once you realise she thought it was a good thing to be compared to a pit bull. Is it a mitigating factor if the pit bull is in drag?

But aren’t there some creatures that are just too embarrassing to hunt? Are there some that just deserve a break? We’re not talking the world’s most ferocious beast here. What’s a godwit going to do to fight back? Fix you with their beady eye? Can it possibly contribute to your sense of manhood and well-being to hunt one? How many would you need for a decent feed? Apparently they are not particularly bright birds and are as street wise and cunning as your average pipi judging by some old hunting journals where young boys enticed them into range and continued shooting until they ‘had quite a bag’.

In the New Zealand Railways Magazine Te Maire Rakau writes in 1938, about 10 years before the ban on harvesting godwits; “We read and sometimes hear that godwits make good eating, and no one could find fault with a marooned sailor adding godwits to his diet of shell fish and seaweed. But why it is that well fed men with beef and potatoes abounding should want to eat godwits, is beyond my understanding. It would appear that there are some men whose sole reaction to anything is to wonder how it would fraternise with their own gastronomical apparatus. Kill, skin and eat. Is that their only appreciation?” Guess so. Still.

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