When Eating Crow Was an American Food Trend - Gastro Obscura
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When Eating Crow Was an American Food Trend

The birds briefly became a delicacy.

Often, crows were cooked with lard or butter.
Often, crows were cooked with lard or butter. Bc999 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Unusual trends dominated the 1930s, such as the goldfish-swallowing fad that cropped up on college campuses. But choking down live fish wasn’t so much a snack as it was a novelty. Yet another trend of the time was much more filling, and just as unprecedented: In Tulsa, Oklahoma, residents started eating crows.

At the scholarly site The Recipes Project, Michael Walkden explains that the crow-eating craze can be traced to one man: Dr. T. W. Stallings, a former county health superintendent who was the first to promote eating crow. His reasons were two-fold, according to Walkden: Farmers disliked seeing the birds raid their fields, and Stallings held a deep personal dislike for the birds. At first, Stallings held “crow banquets,” where the secretive main ingredient was masked as quail. He soon managed to turn people into crow-eating aficionados, even after it came to light that the bird in question was indeed crow, and not quail. One of the most outspoken fans was the governor of Oklahoma, who founded the “Statehouse Crow Meat Lovers Association” in response.

Stalling’s recipe consisted of rubbing plucked crows with lard to combat their dryness, cooking them in a sealed cast-iron pan along with celery, and finishing them off with lots of gravy. Three crows per person would make a meal.

A crow finds a tasty treat.
A crow finds a tasty treat. Ingrid Taylar / CC BY 2.0

Stallings’s passion for eating crow caused a craze. In 1935, a “wave of enthusiasm for crow” swept Oklahoma, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Of course, in the trailing days of the Great Depression, eating crow was more than just excitement over an alternative protein. For farmers in Oklahoma, hungry crows posed a threat to an already precarious livelihood, and the meat was a welcome addition to their daily diet. Walkden also points out that the surrounding press and public support for crow-eating could be nothing but good for the agricultural industry, so “state officials had a vested interest in promoting the extermination of the birds,” too.

Though eating crow was a curiosity, it also went down easy. The birds, mostly dark meat, have been described as pleasantly gamy by most accounts. Not to mention it was plentiful in Oklahoma and beyond. Crow-hunting clubs popped up, dedicated to shooting and eating all things corvid. In 1937, The Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin noted that “for several years there has been a campaign to prove to people generally that ‘black partridges’ are a delicious food.” It was an uphill battle, especially since crows, as scavengers, have been known to eat meat and garbage. Also, crows occasionally eat eggs and nestlings of other birds. Many hunters believed that shooting and eating crows was even good for conserving the populations of more desirable game birds, such as ducks.

Lucky for the crows, the trend soon fizzled, likely because times were less desperate. Walkden suggests that most people’s instinctual disgust towards certain animals is hard to overcome, so perhaps crow-eating was doomed from the start. But Stallings was not to be deterred. Even in 1947, as part of his “Crow-for-Food movement,” Stallings could still be found telling reporters that crows were easy to get, rich in Vitamin B, and tasty.

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