Lenina Huxley: Just don't ask them where the meat comes from.
John Spartan: Huxley, what's that supposed to mean?
: Do you see any cows around here, detective?
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, pigeons, mangy strays and other scrounging pests, although their small size makes some of these creatures unlikely candidates for Meal of Last Resort.
Commonly seen 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
- In Judge Dredd, rats have become the primary source of protein for humans in Mega-City One.
- The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers - Franklin and Phineas are appalled when Fat Freddy takes their food money and buys a shotgun to hunt with. Freddy, who's never used a gun in his life, insists he'll eat everything he kills. While playing with the gun in the apartment he drops it, and it goes off, killing a rat in the ceiling. The other two hold him to his promise (at gunpoint!)
- Actually an important plot point in the last arc of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Mirage Publishing) comics. Splinter has fallen down a hole and can't move anywhere due to breaking his ankle. He's watched over by the mysterious Rat King, who refuses to directly help him. Eventually, Splinter snaps and takes a bite out of a rat near him. This is portrayed as a moment of enlightenment, and the Rat King helps him afterwards.
- 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 Angeles, in Demolition Man, eat rat meat.
"Huxley, what's that supposed to mean?"
(to Hispanic Scrap selling burgers) "...Que es esta?"
"Es de carne de rata."
"Best burger I've had in years."
- 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, especially since hedgehog is actually regularly served in Roma cuisine.
- 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.
- In the opening of The Mummy Returns, The Rock catches and eats a live scorpion when he's starving in the desert. At least raw scorpions taste almost exactly like raw, unshelled shrimp once you get over the Squick factor, and they are safe as long as you don't eat the tail.
- In Terminator Salvation, Kyle serves Marcus meat from a ruins-scavenging coyote.
- In Battlefield Earth, Terl allows some of the human slaves (including the hero) out in the wild to see what they will consume as food, as he doesn't know what humans like to eat. The only edible animals they find are rats, so that's what they eat, but Terl believes it was their preferred meal.
- Played with in Jungle 2 Jungle, Mimi, being raised by an amazonian tribe, gives a beggar who is asking for food since he hasn't eaten anything a dead pigeon, telling him "Eat".
- Merlin has "It's rat...", starting with an episode where Camelot is experiencing famine and Merlin makes a rat that was chewing up Arthur's clothes into a stew that he serves to the prince. And when Arthur realizes where the meat came from he makes Merlin eat it instead.
- Sometimes contemplated, or even done for real, by participants in reality game shows such as Survivor or The Colony.
- In the latter example the colonists actually made a rat farm at one point.
- Serious wilderness-survival shows often recommend use of this trope under dire circumstances.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In his lowest moments after having his soul returned, 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.
- Moving house, Mike once discovered Buddy Holly hanging from a parachute in his new bedroom. Holly claimed to have been stuck there for over two decades, eating any bugs that came within reach.
- 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 Black Adder 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. This may or may not be true.
- 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.
- Non-starvation literal example: A bitter man on Bones tricked his divorce lawyer into eating ratburgers once a week in a private act of revenge.
- The little bald boy who's really a child Observer from Fringe is implied to have lived off rats, bugs, and moss scrounged in the tunnel where he was found.
- The preview to How I Met Your Mother's last season showed Ted's children future children who, having been listening to Ted tell his story for the last eight years, survived with the help of a spider farm they cultivated in a "World's Best Dad" mug.
Newspaper Comics & Magazine Comics
- "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.
- A The New Yorker cartoon once depicted an author writing about "blockade mutton". If a city has been blockaded long enough, the locals will be reduced to eating dog. At one point, his research fails him, but after a trip to a pet store and a (flexible) restaurant, he returns to his desk and types, "It is tough, gamey, and strong-flavored".
- This mock Public Service Announcement (in Spanish) from the now-defunct Mexican radio station, Radioactivo 98.5, which advises to "feed yourself well" during the Easter Vigil when you have to avoid red meat by instead eating rat meat, also listing rat "dishes" and mentioning that rats are "Besides being abundant in proteins, carbohydrates and poor neighborhoods, they are also economical and easy to acquire: You just need a broom and a dustpan... or simply just a shoe. Look in your closest sewer! Streets are full of rats! And to avoid the disgust, first shave your rat and decorate it with tomato slices, sprinkle it with sesame and for the elegant touch put an olive in its snout".
- In B4: The Lost City, a classic adventure for Basic Dungeons & 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.
- The darklord Monette, from Ravenloft, contracted lycanthropy by catching and eating infected bats after he was shipwrecked on an island with no other food.
- Discussed in Cave Story, which gives us this gem of a line:
- 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, 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 Ė Bloodlines, your character can catch and eat rats for blood supply (which is helpful when the humans about the map won't go into a dark corner, or if you're in a combat map with no humans in sight, like the LA Sewers), though some (mainly Ventrue, who are the most elitist of the Camarilla clans) might vomit the blood back up out of disgust. For Nosferatu, who break The Masquerade just by being seen, this may be your only source of blood, and they gain more blood from the act than other vampire types.
- 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. In the Nether, rotten meat dropped by zombie pigmen is the only naturally occurring source of food which can be eaten without extra resources, and is often the last resort of a lost traveler who has exhausted the food they brought with 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.
- In Blood, Caleb comes across a fryer. Pressing the action button causes him to quip "Mmmmm! Ratburgers!"
- Fallen London, in a vast cavern deep underground, has rats on strings as resources. They're seen as much more appetizing than the horse tripe sold similarly.
- Kai in Heavenly Sword sadly says that she was alone once, "I ate cockroaches, yuck". Yet at the start of the previous chapter she quite happily ate a worm after describing them as tasty (not even a supposedly nutritious grub but a big ol' common earthworm).
- In the After the End setting of Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light, rats have become a staple food for the surviving humans living in the Moscow Metro. Venice Station in Last Light even has a shooting gallery where live rats are used as targets, and then promptly served at the local barbecue. Denizens of the same station also eat the huge, bug-like Shrimp mutants that swim in the murky waters surrounding it— Fedor the fisherman remarks that they taste great with beer.
- The people living in Boston in The Last Of Us at the start of the game can be seen waiting in line for grilled rats, some of them apparently standing there for hours.
- 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, soon after Florence the Bowman's wolf joined the crew the ship's rat population suddenly diminished.
- Part of the reason Gargamel goes after The Smurfs. And when he can't have Smurfs to eat, he has to eat slime soup.
- Star Wars: Clone Wars: Anakin had a lunch of a bag full of bugs.
- Several species of wild rat are eaten in Africa and Asia as bush meat.
- "Bwana, they're delicious roasted!" - opening line of "Jungle Doctor On The Hop", overlapping with literature.
- 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.
- Sailors called them "blockade mutton."
- 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.
- Like Britain, Japan was a food-importing Empire heavily dependent on its colonies to supply it with agricultural products - more so than Britain, in fact. By mid-1945, with the entire merchant fleet either sunk or unable to move for lack of fuel and the Allied blockade, large swathes of the population were actually living over the brink of starvation with an average per-citizen intake of 1200 calories (of a required 2000). Articles in the government-sponsored womens' magazines told readers how to pad out bread with sawdust, catch mice, frogs, birds and insects for eating. If Japan hadn't surrendered when it did and Operation Downfall had been executed, it's likely that most of the resultant ten-to-twenty million estimated Nipponese civilian fatalities would've been due to malnutrition and related diseases and accidents - it's not the starving that kills you, much of the time.
- 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, nicknames rats caught in subway tunnels "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.
- Clans of Indian rat-catchers, who are treated as outcasts due to the squalid nature of their work, have been known to resort to this trope to reduce expenses on food and thus afford a good education, and better life, for their kids.
- 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.)
- When the first Survivor season contestants ate rats on the island, the audience actually felt that they should be prohibited from doing so, not because of the Squick factor, but because, being a game show, they didn't actually need the rats to survive.
- Some projects are underway introducing rodents and similar animals as livestock to impoverished third-world countries, since they can live on relatively little and breed like mice, providing an easy source of meat and garden fertilizer.
- This is, after all, exactly why guinea pigs and rabbits were domesticated in the first place.
- Concentration-camp prisoners in WWII, confined without food in squalid barracks, would eat the lice that infested their cots and bodies. That's right, there was so little food, even the rats had moved out.
- One nutritionist consulting for NASA in the '60s recommended that potential Mars expeditions bring cages of mice as edible livestock, reasoning that such Explosive Breeder rodents could generate high-protein food more efficiently than conventional meat animals.
- The nutria is a large rodent, native to South America and an invasive pest to North American wetlands, with bounties offered for harvesting them. State and local government have campaigned to create a market for their meat, but with limited success, so we can't expect them in restaurants soon. But they are a viable food option for residents of the poor, rural swamp counties and parishes, and yield a good deal more meat per head than rats.
- The related capybara—the largest rodent in the world—was historically sought out by European colonists in South America for its meat. Why? Because, based on the description they sent to The Pope, the semi-aquatic capybara was certified as a "fish" for the purposes of Lenten fasting. You can bet they loved that opportunity to eat red meat during Lent, even if it did come from a giant rat...