While most Catholics must give up the eating of flesh for Lent, Detroit-area Catholics have a special exception to eat muskrat.
Although we’re not sure if they’d want to.
For those who don’t live near a river or lake, muskrats are small, semi-aquatic rodents that sort of looks like a cross between a rat and a beaver. The name muskrat comes from their rat-like appearance (although they’re more closely related to beavers than rats), and their musky aroma that’s used to mark their territories.
They’ve been hunted throughout human history for their furs and, on occasion, for their meat. In fact, Catholics in Michigan have a special dispensation that allows them to eat muskrat during Lent, and it’s a tradition that goes back a long way.
The practice of eating muskrat dates back to the missionary days of the 1700s. According to Edward Peters, a faculty member at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, priests “realized that food was especially scarce in the region by the time Lent came around and did not want to burden Catholics unreasonably by denying them one of the few readily available sources of nutrition--however unappetizing it might be for most folks.”
However, even starving Catholics might want to pass on muskrat meat. It apparently looks gross and tastes even worse.
Andrew Zimmern, a culinary adventurer and host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods, had this to say about Muskrat meat:
"Muskrat is one of those animals that has to be skinned and its fat removed. Like raccoon, sometimes there are nodules in there that make the meat bitter. It’s a very dark meat and tastes like slightly spoiled beef. The texture isn’t redeemable to me either."
Apparently, the flavor is all due to the muskrat’s diet, which is mostly whatever it can find. That usually involves small invertebrates, fish, and vegetation found in swamps and ponds.
So, uh, yeah. If you’re a Catholic in Detroit and feel like you just can’t go without a dash of protein in your diet, and for whatever reason you can’t get some protein powder or vegetable-based protein, then muskrat is an option. A terrible, awful option.