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Reduced to Ratburgers

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There are few better ways (short of No Party Like a Donner Party) to demonstrate that a human character is desperate for food than to reduce him to eating rats. Although such animals are technically edible, their association with disease, garbage and urban decay places them firmly on the "Unclean/Do Not Eat" list in most viewers' minds. This also applies for mice, cockroaches, dump-foraging seagulls, mangy strays and other scrounging pests, although their small size makes some of these creatures unlikely candidates for Meal of Last Resort.

Commonly invoked in After the End scenarios or during prolonged military sieges. Also Played for Laughs in cases where characters are simply too poor to afford even dog food.

If rats are being eaten by creatures that normally subsist on small mammal prey, rather than people who do so only reluctantly, then it's Alien Lunch. Eat That applies if the eating is done to win a bet or game show rather than survive. May be inverted when a Squeaking Carpet or Rodents of Unusual Size are involved. Usually an alternative to Eat the Dog, another way to showcase characters' famished need to eat whatever they can get ... although if it's a pet rat that gets eaten, the two can overlap.

It should be noted that rat is a delicacy in some countries (see Real Life, below), which is potentially a different trope altogether.

Examples of Reduced to Ratburgers include:


Anime Edit

  • The Gateway Shuffle episode of Cowboy Bebop revolves around ecoterrorists trying to stop the harvest of Sea Rats. Once something only eaten by desperate Ganymede colonists, it became a gourmet food when interplanetary shipping became more reliable.

 Spike: And is it tasty?

Jet: It’s totally disgusting. People eat it anyway for status, it’s "in" now.

    • It also works as a reference to Lobster, which was considered a desperation food for slaves and the poor during the early days of American Colonialism.

Comic Books Edit

  • In Judge Dredd, rats have become the primary source of protein for humans in Mega-City One.

Film Edit

  • In The Last Unicorn, the bandits complain that Molly keeps serving them rat soup.

 "At least she could use a different rat!"

  • In Never Cry Wolf, the naturalist tests whether a wolf-sized animal can really survive eating only rodent-sized prey by catching and eating the arctic mice and voles that keep infesting his campsite.
  • In the 2010 film based on Yogi Bear, Yogi, accustomed to eating only "pic-a-nic" lunches, is forced to "rough it" and tries eating worms instead. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
  • Used in at least one movie version of Cyrano De Bergerac to illustrate that the defenders of a besieged fortress are completely out of food.
  • In Time Bandits, Vermin catches and eats a live rat when the characters are imprisoned. Of course, he eats anything.
  • The subterranean "scraps" who live in the tunnels under San Angelo, in Demolition Man, eat rat meat.

 "This is a ratburger?"

"Do you see any cows around here, Detective?"

  "That's good rat."

  • In a desperate attempt to keep costs down, the main characters in the Death Nurse duology start secretly feeding the patients staying at their clinic rats from the basement.
  • In Threads, Ruth Beckett barters for dead rats in the months after nuclear war. All the while, there's a Standard Life insurance company's advertisement behind them.
  • In Heavyweights, the protagonists put together a video showing the kids' parents just how horrifying Tony's weight loss regimen really is, including a scene of one kid pretending to devour a (fake) rat. One character worries if they went too far, with another commenting that he thought it was a nice touch.
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sim serves Watson and Holmes, in Holmes' own words, "the best hedgehog goulash I have ever tasted" during their stay at the Gypsy camp. Watson quickly loses his appetite after hearing that, causing Holmes to scold him for being such a poor dinner guest.
  • While Major Payne was wasting away in a hotel room as part of a scene spoofing Apocalypse Now, his voiceover laments of how hungry he was for violence and excitement. Then he catches sight of a rat skittering across the floor and his VO adds "Hell, I was just plain hungry!". Cue the grilled rat-on-a-stick.

Literature Edit

  • In Discworld, rats are a staple of traditional dwarf cuisine. There's a rat-meat section in Ankh-Morpork's butchers' market, and recipes such as rat-on-a-stick, rat pie, and rat pizza are mentioned. An occasional human character is seen dining on such meals with dwarf companions.
    • Unbelievably, there's a real rat pizza recipe in Nanny Ogg's Cookbook! Luckily, it's a human-palatable version, with sculpted "rats" made from cut-up vegetables.
    • Vetinari himself is briefly suspected of eating rats in Feet of Clay, when he's being poisoned by unknown means and the Watch learns that rats have been dying from the same poison.
      • In Guards Guards, he's stuck in the dungeon, but he doesn't have to eat the rats. He sends the rats out to find food for him. (He earned their allegiance by giving them advice in their war with the snakes and the spiders.)
      • The same book also plays with this as the Dwarf restaurant owner, Gimlet, apparently was unable to afford real[1] rat a couple of times and was caught substituting chicken or even beef.
    • Also, in The Last Continent there's a reference to how, if people were reduced to eating cockroaches by a catastrophe, Mrs. Whitlow would still use a napkin to do so.
  • World War Z:
    • The small dog rescued by one of the interviewees was adopted by a family, and kept them fed through the winter by killing rats for the stewpot.
    • The men on the ISS eked out their food supply by killing and eating the lab rats.
  • In Fly Trap (sequel to Fly By Night), the city of Toll is divided into two parts, lucky Toll by Day and impoverished Toll by Night. When one wealthy character in the day city complains about a blockade keeping her from having chocolate, the Mosca tries to wake her up by saying that she may be running low on chocolate, but in the night city they've even run out of rats, and have started cooking owls and sparrows (and paying a high cost for them!)
  • In The Stand, a plague-survivor trapped in his cell at a prison where everyone else has died or fled hoards a dead rat, which he plans to eat if no one comes to let him out.
  • In the Master and Commander series, sailors are known to eat rats when food is scarce at sea. "Only we call 'em millers to make 'em eat better."
    • In two of the Bloody Jack books, due to kidnapping-related circumstances, the main character and her fellow captives capture rats to supplement their pitiful rations. In both books, they're called "millers" for the same reason as above.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Stannis Baratheon and his troops were reduced to eating rats during a long-term siege. They were in serious danger of starving to death until smuggler Davos Seaworth secretly managed to bring in supplies, mostly onions, earning himself a knighthood. This also gave him his nickname "The Onion Knight."
    • And in A Dance With Dragons, Theon is reduced to eating rats in Ramsay Bolton's dungeon.
  • Averted by the Rat-Speakers in Neverwhere, who revere such rodents far too much to even contemplate eating them, so dine on stray cats instead.
  • Before the beginning of The Curse of Chalion, Cazaril is in a siege where, when he's telling the story, he claims that not a rat was left unroasted within the besieged castle. Later in the book, he needs a rat for an illegal spell he wants to perform, so he exploits the fact that this is common knowledge and sends a page to catch one for him, claiming that he developed a taste for them during the siege and he's going to eat it.
  • In Lucifers Hammer, the survivors of the cometary strike supplement their limited diet through a harsh winter by raising and eating rats as food animals.
  • In Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, newly turned Louis couldn't stomach the idea of feeding upon humans, so he feeds upon rats instead. This was mocked by his sire Lestat, who considered him a coward and a weakling because of it.

 Lestat: All I need to find you, Louis, is follow the corpses of rats!

  • One of the early Shadowrun novels is told from a city ork's point of view, and mentions his distaste for cat meat, which local ork kids hunt down in the alleys of the Barrens.
  • In Harry Potter, Sirius mentions having to eat rats and other stuff while on the run from the ministry. At least it could be said that being in dog form while doing so would make it more bearable, but he still chomps on the food the kids bring him when they meet.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound (the last novel in the Worldwar series), astronaut Glen Johnson notices that his shredded meat sandwich tastes funny and, after thinking about the fact that the ship hasn't received supplies in several decades, decides he doesn't want to know what kind of meat it is. He suspects it's probably guinea pig, though.
  • In Jeff Long's Year Zero, Nathan Lee must trudge down a mountain in Nepal after being pushed off a ledge and abandoned without supplies. Passing through an area infested with leeches, he pulls them off his ankles and eats them to keep his strength up.
  • Referenced frequently in The Hunger Games, where the starving people of District 12 are willing to eat most kinds of animals, including mice, rats, squirrels, and dogs (says one shopkeeper: "Once it's in the soup, I'll call it beef").

Live Action Television Edit

  • Sometimes contemplated, or even done for real, by participants in reality shows such as Survivor or The Colony.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: While he was atoning for his sins after being re-ensouled, Angel subsisted on rat blood. Part of his Vegetarian Vampire-ness.
  • Vyvyan on The Young Ones once found a dead rat in the stewpot, and (being Vyvyan) promptly ate it.
  • In Blackadder Goes Forth, Baldrick has cooked "rat au vin", which turns out to be a rat that's been run over by a van.
    • Baldrick from Blackadder II found his boss eating leeches on his doctor's orders, and offered him a fat spider he'd been saving for his own meal. Another episode saw him hanging cheese from his face in order to lure mice into his mouth.
  • On Highlander the Series, an immortal who was marooned on a deserted island with no food was reduced to catching and eating flies in his desperation.
  • The Monty Python "Church Police" sketch has the family's choice of desserts - rat cake, rat sorbet, rat pudding, or strawberry tart. Which has some rat in it. Three. Rather a lot, really.
  • On CSI New York, the Rat Fisherman claimed he might eat his catch if he were hungry enough, although he may have been yanking the investigators' chain.
  • On Boardwalk Empire, Nucky once got some Moral Guardians to sympathize with him by claiming he'd grown up so poor, he'd had to resort to this trope.
  • In Forever Knight, vampires live off the blood of whatever kind of creature they first tasted after being vamped. Usually that's humans, but there are occasional animal-drinkers, known as carouches; the recurring character Screed had the bad luck to get stuck with rats.

Music Edit

  • "Rats on a Budget" is a novelty song by Heat N Serve, staged as a commercial for an ultra-cheap fast food chain with an all-rodent menu. The video garnered a lot of (queasy) laughs on MTV's "Basement Tapes" and the Dr. Demento show.

Tabletop Games Edit

  • In B4: The Lost City, a classic adventure for Basic Dungeons and Dragons, the underground city's meat supplies come from farming giant rats and giant cave crickets.
  • Rat-on-a-stick is a quite common wasteland snack in the world of the post-apocalyptic game Mutant Future.

Theater Edit

Video Games Edit

  • In Dwarf Fortress, your dwarves will hunt vermin for food if they go hungry for too long.
  • One the tapes left behind by the Jackal in Far Cry 2 is a recording of him recalling the time he spent in a prison. One of the inmates had to catch a live rat and crush it to death with his teeth because the guards had him handcuffed 24/7 and refused to feed him. The inmate died three days later, because of the horror of what he became.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, when imprisoned, stripped and with no food, you have a Fork (that automatically causes Snake to eat anything edible you stab with it) and a low Stamina gauge (which denotes your level of hunger). There is also a very conspicuous rat running around in your cell. Which respawns every so often when you do the obvious. Which is a good thing, as Snake finds it much tastier (hence, more stamina regained) than anything the guard will bother to feed him.
  • Within Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, your character can catch and eat rats for blood supply. For Nosferatu, who break The Masquerade just by being seen, this may be your only source of blood.
  • One of the creepiest locales in Dark Fall: Lost Souls is the abandoned train station's cafe, which the street person Mr. Bones has "redecorated" with mannequins, refuse, and menus re-written to offer various stray pets and vermin as dinner items. Dirty dishes and pans in the cafe's kitchenette strongly imply that he's been cooking rats, pigeons, and other urban wildlife for himself.
  • Planescape: Torment has a street vendor who sells cooked cranium rats (Hive Mind rats that become intelligent, malevolent spellcasters when there are enough of them in one area) - boiled, fried, and roasted. Your Player Character can try these, and finds the fried one quite delicious.
  • In Minecraft it's not so much Ratburgers, but you may be finding yourself eating zombie flesh if you are strapped for resources. Also perhaps the most renewable source of food given that you can farm them from spawners or wait until daybreak for the sun to toast them.
  • Fallout 2 has rats as a perfectly natural source of meat. The PC can even barter recipes at one point.
    • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas also feature giant, mutated versions of mole rats, cockroaches, and ants, among other critters. All can be harvested for meat, and in New Vegas, can be cooked into what are evidently satisfying meals. Bloatfly sliders, anyone?
  • Otis, the prisoner in The Secret of Monkey Island, complains constantly about how there's usually nothing for him to eat but rats. Played for laughs, since he does have a piece of carrot cake his Aunt Tillie made, but he can't stand carrot cake.
  • Subverted in Runescape. The giant rats are so big you can carve steaks off of them.

Webcomics Edit

  • Freefall has (so far) two characters that enjoy the delights of entomological cookery (bug-eating): in the case of Sam Starfall, it's not clear how much of it is Alien Lunch as a result of being a squid in a suit and how much is his natural scavenger instincts. With vet Winston Thurmad it's a conscious dietary choice based on the fact that insects are healthier for you- high protein, low fat, and aside from haemovorous species, aren't likely to carry pathogens that affect humans. And of course, the Uplifted Animal engineer is quick to catch and eat rat (offscreen).

Real Life Edit

  • Several species of wild rat are eaten in Africa and Asia as bush meat.
  • Subverted by stuffed dormice, which were a coveted delicacy in ancient Rome and other cultures.
  • Rats were considered standard fare for the Plucky Middie in the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men.
  • In a Real Life variant blending this trope with Eat the Dog, some poor Italians during World War II were forced to eat cats, whether strays or pets, in order to survive. In particular, people from Vicenza are still mockingly called "Magnagati" (Cat Eaters) at times.
    • Also done in Britain at the time, where alley-cats were nicknamed "roof rabbits" to make them sound more palatable.
  • During the Siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1871, many of the city's finest restaurants put cat, pigeon, and rat on the menu. Even the zoo elephants were eaten.
  • In poorer cities, some homeless people still catch and eat rats. In some English-speaking areas, one euphemism, related to the above about cats, rats caught near subways are "track rabbits."
  • Rats (and we are talking about the species known for being pests, not "smeerps") are commonly eaten in some parts of China and India, but they are often farm-raised rather than taken off the streets.
  • Some years ago, there was a food scare in Jakarta, Indonesia, when a TV station aired a story claiming that some local noodle sellers were making their meatballs out of rat. A large group of noodle sellers subsequently picketed the TV station because they'd lost business as a result. (The usual ingredient for Indonesian bakso meatballs, by the way, is beef.)

Notes

  1. the gnome rat-catcher charges too much for real, trap-fresh, rat

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