The True Story of the Roadkill Cook
A few things to know about Alison Brierley: she eats roadkill, she's nomadic, and she's having a baby in February. When the story broke in The Daily Mail about the U.K. woman's pregnancy cravings for highway delights, the world gasped, but we wanted to know more. In this exclusive interview, she takes TakePart beyond the shocking exterior of her unusual life. Turns out, she's on to something. No, she didn't convince us to scout the roads for our next meal, but there's no denying her lifestyle makes ecological sense. Here's her side of the story...
TakePart: We have to know—how did you start eating roadkill?
Alison Brierley: I first ate a piece of roadkill when a friend hit it about eight years ago on the way home from work. It just bounced off the car and it landed, and I thought, "I'm going to check that." When I went out it was dead, luckily. I just thought, "I'm going to eat it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's exactly the same bird you'd get at the butcher's minus all the lead shot." So I took it home, prepared it, and it was fantastic. Then five years ago I started eating roadkill regularly and experimenting more and learning more of the taxidermy side of things for my artwork.
TakePart: And what was that first animal?
Alison Brierley: A pheasant.
TakePart: Who taught you to cook?
Alison Brierley: The cooking side of things I've just learned as I've gone along. As I've grown up I've really been interested in food and because I'm a meat eater I think it's my responsibility to actually be acquainted with the animal I'm eating, which means butchering it and learning from scratch, instead of finding some sanitized package on the supermarket shelf already done for me.
TakePart: Was there something that prompted you to start eating roadkill regularly?
Alison Brierley: Because I was using more animals in my artwork, I was handling a lot of meat, and what was going through my mind was, "Why can’t I eat this?" So when something was really fresh I actually decided to eat it. I learned about the animal first, like any diseases that it might carry. I got in touch with people who used to eat it themselves, asked them their opinions, and just gathered as much knowledge as I could before I actually started eating the roadkill. Before then, I just used to dispose of the carcasses to nature and keep the skins and feathers and whatever I was using [for my art], but now I try to go tip to tail. I try to eat and use everything.
TakePart: What kind of roadkill have you eaten so far?
Alison Brierley: Staple roadkill in the U.K. are rabbits, pheasants, hares, deer, squirrels. Foxes, badgers, those kinds of things, I’ve processed and worked with, but their meat has never been in great enough condition to eat. Badgers especially can carry bovine TB, so you have to be very, very careful.
TakePart: You mention that you got advice from people who've eaten these animals themselves. Is there a community of people who eat roadkill?
Alison Brierley: There's not quite a community. It's still quite a quirky, eccentric thing to do because we've just been so socially conditioned that it's dirty food. When people think of roadkill, they instantly think of this flat thing on the road that's been run over 10 times by a tractor or something and that is totally inedible. Then people realize, "Hang on, what she's preparing looks like it's just gone to sleep—there's hardly any injury on it whatsoever." That's the kind of roadkill that you look for, stuff that hasn't been ruptured.
As far as friends go, we do have a community of people who love to go camping and be outdoors in nature, and that's where you tend to skill share and find out a lot about country ways and cookery, like cooking whole pigs in earth ovens.
TakePart: I heard that you're a nomad, is that true?
Alison Brierley: Me and my partner are both nomadic. We've been traveling for a long time. The last time I had a permanent home was five years ago. I owned an art gallery in Harrogate. It was very normal, apart from that it was all to do with tribal art. Me and my partner are both avid backpackers, so we do a lot of traveling into remote places like the Amazon and Papua New Guinea. We stay with tribes. I've got a keen interest in anthropology and I just love different cultures and how they cook and what they eat and their relationship to their food as well.
TakePart: Is that how your interest in foraging, recycling and ecology grew?
Alison Brierley: Yeah. I think when you're traveling and you don't have a lot of possessions and you're not surrounded by bills and house and possessions and clutter, you have more of a chance to interact with the environment. So we've decided to stay nomadic until we find a piece of land where we actually want to put down roots and build an eco-home and start a small community of our own, where likeminded people can come and skill share and learn off the land. That’s the plan—to be totally off-grid and eco.
TakePart: Right now are you staying with friends or camping?
Alison Brierley: We have a motorhome, so we actually live in our motorhome and we drive it wherever we like. If we don't like the view one morning, we can change it. It's quite nice. When we visit friends, we take our house with us. We love it. It's a great lifestyle. It suits us very, very much. Although, we will be renting in a beautiful little village up on the moors in Yorkshire to have a baby and nest-build for a little while.
TakePart: What's your favorite roadkill to cook?
Alison Brierley: I love eating hare. Hare is very special to me. Pheasant is a staple food. We eat lots of pheasants and lots of rabbits in springtime [laughing]. There are sort of seasons for different types of roadkill, and my fellow loves venison. We actually both love venison because you can get a huge amount of meat off one animal and it lasts for ages, but my favorite delicacy is the really weird stuff, like insects and the stuff you get in foreign countries that nobody else dares to try. I like to shock myself.
TakePart: What’s the most shocking insect you've eaten?
Alison Brierley: A live bamboo worm. It popped in my mouth and it was just like a big sack of milk, and that kind of freaked me out. But it didn't taste bad at all.
TakePart: What's your least favorite food?
Alison Brierley: There's only one thing I really dislike. I can eat anything apart from Marmite. I hate Marmite, and Vegemite as well. I keep trying it, thinking "This is the only thing I don't like, so I'm going to keep trying it." And I still really don't like it.
Watch Alison make one of her roadkill recipes: