My First Helping of Canada Goose

When my father called to say a friend of his had pulled up with the carcass of a freshly-killed goose, and that he planned to cook it for family dinner, I was more than a little hesitant

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When I told people I was planning to eat a Canada Goose, they looked at me as if I'd said I was roasting a rat for dinner. The wild Branta canadensis is ranked down there with the pigeon and the seagull as one of North America's most loathed birds. And for good enough reason. A flock of geese flying in formation might look beautiful from a distance, but these birds cause problems, crowding parks and public space and polluting waterfronts with their waste. Many farmers hate them too. A group of hungry geese searching for seed can trample a newly-planted field in mere minutes, wasting the crop. Their reputation both city-side and in the country is so bad that, when, over the years, officials have suggested culling the flocks and then offering the meat at homeless shelters, the response often has been outrage at the idea of forcing on the poor the indignity of eating a Canada Goose.

Because of their flâneur-like loitering, a goose might seem an easy snatch, but it takes skill to nab one.

But ask a hunter and it's a different story: Those in the know call the Canada Goose the roast beef of the skies. There are people who prefer to hunt geese over other game, and, on both sides of the border, paid hunting tours are organized to stake out the birds. In an excellent short story set in Toronto, three struggling newcomers to Canada salivate at the sight of the food wandering around the city's parks. The punch line comes when they catch a few geese one dark night and cook them up. As the narrator says after dinner: "Well them geese taste good."

These divergent opinions have led to a debate: Should we eat the Canada Goose?

I recently jumped into the discussion when my dad called to say that a hunter friend had pulled up with the carcass of a freshly-killed goose -- blood, feathers, guts, and all. He said we would be cooking it for the next family dinner. To be honest, I was hesitant. I am locavore-inclined and eat domesticated fowl of all sorts -- I adore duck and am particularly fond of a lightly poached duck egg -- but there was something about eating a wild goose that made me stop. Was it that I had seen too many of them paddling around polluted lakefronts? Or maybe it was their predilection for foraging on the pesticide-saturated lawns of golf courses? It was as if the Canada Goose's close association with human activity meant there was something unclean about them. Sure, on the one hand they were wild, but because they like to wander in all sorts of icky places, eating one of the birds sounded just as appetizing as eating a back-alley pigeon.

So I called up a goose hunter.

Drake Larsen is a researcher in sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University who happens to be an avid hunter and who bags well over a dozen Canada Geese a year. He learned his passion for waterfowl hunting from his dad, who called his kids after the birds: Drake is named after the male duck, and his siblings Teal and Woodie after two different species. Canada Goose and venison are the main protein sources for Larsen and his wife. The day I called, he had been out on a goose hunt. "They're so yummy," he said. "It's good, lean, rich meat. I find they are similar to a good cut of beef."

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