Bogong moths beat burgers in the fat stakes
February 10, 2007
For untold aeons, swarms of bogong moths, on their annual
migration to the Southern Alps, provided Aborigines with a welcome
treat rich in energy.
But for many people today, some traditional bush tucker has its
risks, particularly when mixed with poor Western diets.
Lesley Salem, a nurse practitioner specialising in caring for
kidney patients, was often stumped when her Aboriginal patients
would ask: "How many lizards can I eat?" or, "Would lilly pilly jam
be good for the kidneys?
So Mrs Salem, a descendant of the Wonnarua people who lived
around Stroud, went searching for answers. She found research on
the nutritional value of bush tucker had been done, but very little
had been published in a way it could be used by people needing to
know exactly what they were eating.
With the help of her friend and research assistant, Elizabeth
Thompson, Mrs Salem put together a nutritional guide to 326
traditional foods, including animals, insects, sea creatures and
"We could have done thousands. We tried to limit it to popular
foods," said Mrs Salem.
Still, the guide covers everything from the potassium content of
Australian bustards and mangrove worms to the carbohydrates in
billy goat plums and pencil yams.
The guide says 100 grams of bogong moth abdomen contains 38.8
grams of fat and 1805 kilojoules of energy. By comparison,
McDonald's internet site notes a similar Big Mac portion has 12.7
grams of fat and 999 kilojoules.
"You can't assume that because you are eating a naturally grown
native food that it is good for you," said Mrs Salem. "Bogong moths
suited people in a cold climate who needed fat and a burst of
But when mixed with modern Western diets, too much bogong could
be a recipe for disaster. "People still have to be responsible and
still have to be aware about what they eat."
A safer bet might be a portion of red-bellied black snake flesh.
A 100 gram portion has 1.5 grams of fat and 453 kilojoules. "You
could keep your figure with that."
People needed to know that salt-water oysters were high in
sodium and acacia seeds were full of kilojoules.
Mrs Salem said that with life expectancy in some Aboriginal
communities plunging into the 40s and 50s, there was renewed
interest in healthy traditional foods. Bush tucker was also
becoming popular on non-Aboriginal tables.
Restaurants now serve wattle-seed ice cream, kangaroo is popular
and many people don't realise lemon myrtle is native tucker. "It's
beautiful food, and its ours."
Mrs Salem's next project is a guide to bush medicine. She is
interviewing Aboriginal elders to record their knowledge before it
is lost forever.
Her guide, Bush Tucker in Kidney Failure and Diabetes, is
available free by phoning the Renal Resource Centre in Sydney, 9362