There is a camel in Hanifa Deen’s kitchen. He looks down at her as she cooks, eyes proud yet warm, delicately flared snout-smelling dinner. While the creature is merely an image on a poster, Deen, who has written several books on Islam in Australia, regards him affectionately. “It looks like such a regal creature, such a haughty creature,” she says. That’s why you’ll only find camels decorating the walls of Deen’s kitchen, rather than filling a pot on her stove. “I admit, I can’t bring myself to eat a camel burger,” she says.
For many, disinterest in eating camel may sound natural. But around the world, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, and their diasporas, camel meat is dinner. In parts of Morocco, it’s stewed into fragrant tagines on special occasions. In Cairo, diners will pay a premium for the animal’s delicate fat. In Somali neighborhoods of the American Midwest, camel burgers offer immigrant communities, and curious neighbors, a fusion-inspired taste of home.
In contrast, most Australians, who are predominantly European in origin, come from cuisines unused to camel meat. Yet for a large lobby of Australian environmentalists, animal rights activists, and entrepreneurs—not to mention foodies—getting more camel into the Australian diet is not only a gustatory goal: It’s a solution to a major environmental problem.
That’s because Australia is home to the largest feral camel population in the world, with an estimated 300,000 to one million animals. The camels aren’t native to Australia: They were imported in the 19th century to explore the vast deserts of the country’s interior. Left to roam after the advent of motorcars, the population now poses a threat to both delicate ecosystems and local water supplies. In an attempt to address this environmental damage, the Australian government has sponsored aerial camel culls, in which feral camels are shot down by helicopter, their flesh left to rot in the sand. This outrages animal rights activists and many have suggested another way. Why not use feral camels for meat? In Australian neighborhoods home to recent Middle Eastern and African immigrants, after all, halal butcher shops already carry camel meat taken from the Outback, and the Australian camel-meat export industry is growing modestly. READ MORE