Jesus Says That Monster Sized Rodents Are Technically Fish, and No, I’m Not Making This Up

Let’s talk about “Rats”.  No, not the type of rodent that I’ve been hinting at doing an article about since June.  That started as a 2 page piece on a cool science experiment and has since expanded into a 14 page monstrosity on biology, social engineering, and architecture- in other words, it’s still a work in progress.  No, I want to talk about “Rats”, the song by Rasputina.  It is a totally sweet song.  You should go listen to it right now.  Go on.  Do it.

Okay, so, it’s a rad song, right?  Man, and they do all that with nothing but cellos?  Rasputina is pretty awesome.  In fact, I’m officially making them The Amazing Justin Palm! Approved™.  I love that song, which is why now I’m going to ruin it with actual history.  (It’s, like, tough love, or something?)

First of all, the song would probably more accurately be titled “Rodents”, which wouldn’t be as cool a title, but would be more correct.  The song is about the capybara, the world’s largest living species of rodent, which roam all over South America.  And they are pretty large, adult weight averages around 125 pounds.  They spend a lot of time in water, live in herds, and spend a lot of time grazing.  Basically, they’re like cows.  Cows that are giant rodents.  And as you know, cows exist for pretty much one reason in nature, to be snacks for large carnivores.  Tasty, delicious snacks.
Yes.  This is just like a cow.

Obviously, when humans first encountered the capybara thousands of years ago they started eating them too, and just like with cows, people have been farming capybaras for hundreds of years.  And straight up, it’s mostly true that certain parts of Venezuela do have special dispensation from the Vatican to eat the monster rodents.  But this isn’t due to any form of famine or something.  It’s because of some pretty silly Catholic rule bullshit.  (Honestly, I really haven’t been on some sort of militant anti-religion crusade this month.  I just think this story is really stupid.  But the funny kind of stupid, at least!)

Best of all, there’s a few different versions of the story, so actually?  NO ONE REALLY KNOWS HOW THIS HAPPENED.  But anyway, in parts of South America it’s traditional to eat capybara on Fridays in Lent, and during Holy Week.  That’s right, much like fish, it’s considered to be meat that is not meat.  Or to be the meat that you can eat when you’re fasting, or whatever?  Depending on who you ask, capybara IS fish, according to the Pope himself.  The truth is probably a little more complicated than that. 

I’m not going to go into the details of the Columbian Exchange here, because that would take a lot of work, so, uh, here’s the Wikipedia page.  When Europeans first encountered the natives roasting the dog-sized rodents they probably thought “Wait, you eat that filthy thing?” and within 24 hours were eating it too, for lack of any other food source.   That’s just the nature of cultural exchange, pre-internet.  And just as soon as European colonists/conquerors had settled the region/suppressed the locals (it depends on which side of the pond you were originally from), you can sure bet that missionaries showed up to make sure they saved everyone’s souls. 

According to some, this whole “rodents are fish” thing got its start when the missionaries of the 1600s were trying to convert people.  Apparently when asked why they’d have to not eat meat in Lent, the missionaries answer of “because Jesus and stuff” was unsatisfactory to the locals, and they kept eating the capybara anyway.  To keep the new converts for leaving the religion over something terribly silly, the missionaries basically decided to fudge the rules and hope none of their bosses half a world away noticed.

Another explanation is that when the capybara is salted and sold at the market, it’s texture and coloring made it look like fish meat, and that’s what caused the confusion when westerners (re: Catholics) arrived.  They just assumed that they were eating fish during Lent, only to discover it was mega-mouse meat all along.  Of the different versions of how this all got started, I find this one the most suspect; but hey, never underestimate the stupidity of other people, right?

A different version still has one Padre Sojo, a fairly well respected local priest in the later part of the 18th Century, travelling to Rome to get a Papal decree making capybara legitimate Lenten food.  And it totally is, because the rule is, anything that spends a lot of time in water is classified by Rome as “fish”.  No, really.  Beaver is totally cool to eat during Lenten fasting, if, you know, that’s what you’re into.  I bet you could make an argument for hippo or penguin.  If it’samphibious, then it’s a fish, as far as the Pope is concerned.  I looked it up.

Full disclosure, I have never been to South America, and there may well be historical documents that concretely explains the true story about all this.  As much as I love the song “Rats” though, the real story is even weirder (whatever the ‘real’ story may be).  I mean, fasting isn’t really my thing anyway, but if you’re going to have such totally crazy exceptions you might want to ground them in reality?  Or not, maybe?  I don’t know.  It’s their club, they can be as crazy as they want to be with it.  And hey, they make me laugh about how silly they are, so maybe I should be thanking them.
Yes.  This is just like a fish.

Thank you, Pope {Whichever}.  Thank you for turning monster rats into fish for Jesus.


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