If You Want to Eat Meat, How About Guinea Pig?

More guinea pigs are increasingly showing up in the U.S. not as classroom pets in cages, but as a menu item.

The dark-eyed, soft-furred rodents are considered a delicacy in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Expatriates from those countries are fueling demand for dishes featuring†cuyes, as guinea pigs are called in a local Ecuadorian language, Kichwa, after their bird-like squeaks.

I don’t eat meat and frankly felt a bit unsettled to read about diners in restaurants on the East and West coasts eating a “cuy splayed down the middle like a lobster and served with a front leg and a back, an eye, an ear and a nostril,” after being marinated and roasted on the grill. But according to a report on NPR, some activists contend that guinea pigs are a great alternative to beef as they require far less land and resources to raise.

Matt Miller, a science writer for The Nature Conservancy, is writing a book about the “ecological benefits of eating unconventional meats.” Clearing forests for land to raise cattle on has resulted in erosion and water pollution, he notes. On a visit to Columbia, he observed conservation groups urging ranchers to raise guinea pigs instead.

The Alabama-based organization Heifer International has even been promoting guinea pig husbandry in Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, says†NPR:

Jason Woods, the nonprofit’s Americas regional program assistant, says guinea pigs ó which he says usually weigh no more than 2 pounds ó are twice as efficient as cows at turning food, like hay and compost scraps, into meat: To render a pound of meat, a cow, he explains, may require 8 pounds of feed. A guinea pig only needs 4.

To help start a home guinea pig farm, Heifer International typically supplies a family with one male and seven females.

Guinea pigs are known for their ability to reproduce quickly and in quantities. According to Woods, a “guinea pig herd consisting of two males and 20 females can sustain itself while providing meat for a family of six.”

Guinea pigs consumed in the U.S. are not from such “backyard operations,” but imported, frozen and furless, in plastic. Agencies like the USDA and the Department of Fish and Wildlife currently do not track guina pig imports, says†NPR. Businesses that import products from Peru do say that the amount of guinea pigs brought into the U.S. has increased from 600 to 1000 since 2008 and that overall guinea pig consumption in the U.S. is on the rise.

Amid predictions of future global food shortages and the need to lessen our carbon footprint by finding alternatives to current animal-raising practices,†Miller’s and Heifer International’s championing of guinea pig husbandry seems at least worthy of further consideration. What if guinea pig became as ubiquitous as chicken and beef; if guinea pigs were raised in such quantities for food that people would choose to eat them simply because they are the more economical alternative?

Of course, if the thought of “guinea pig nuggets” and “cuyburgers” does not appeal to you, you can still forego meat entirely. Not everyone is a fan of tofu, but the adjective “cute” isn’t a word you’d apply to it — and it doesn’t cheep like a baby bird.

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Photo from Thinkstock


Jen Lee
Jennifer Lee2 years ago

Guinea Pigs aren't stupid and are very smart. They can learn their names and can be potty trained.

tin leng lim
tin leng lim3 years ago

Will never ever eat a guinea pig meat in my life even if it's available in my country.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Pego Rice
Pego R3 years ago

Anthropomorphism, OTOH, doesn't like the fact that many animals aren't that bright, do not have that rich an emotional range and have the extremely short lifespans of prey animals. Anthropomorphism doesn't actually find real animals real lives or feelings worth recognition because they are not at all the same as human biology and expression.

Pego Rice
Pego R3 years ago

Compassion admits that predation is a normal healthy part of our existance.

Compassion admits that the world is not as we demand, but that we can be compasionate to those who are different. (including, yes, needing a different diet)

Pego Rice
Pego R3 years ago

Compassion includes actually admitting that all creatures have a life cycle.

Julie H.
Julie H3 years ago

Well Pego, unlike you, some people have compassion, empathy and respect for all animals. We aren't heartlless and to us ALL animals lives matter. Many humans aren't too bright either, maybe meat eaters ought to start eating stupid people....they would never go hungry that's for sure.

Pego Rice
Pego R3 years ago

GPs are more than a bit better than rabbits for livestock. In fact they are less invasive than not only rabbits but also hogs, cattle, goats and just about any other form of livestock or even pets. They were not the brightest critter in the wild, being pretty close to the bottom of the predation cycle and several thousand years of living on scraps in kitchens has not improved their IQ. bottom-range prey animals aren't that bright and these are too stupid to live long in the wild. They are, or were totally dependant on being eaten to survive at all. They have been taken up in the last 100 years as pets, but dumb and useless pets have a bad habit of falling out of favor after a while.

Gysele van Santen

they look so cute & harmless. my first pet was a guinea pig, his name was Wilbur. i never wondered how he would taste. that's gross.

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

"I agree with Jude that shame on Care2 for this! Advocating animal cruelty! If people ate guinea pigs, farm animals would still be slaughtered! We should be stopping animal slaughter, not working our way threough the rest of the animal kingdom and seeing which tastes the best!".........Nicola, Care2 isn't advocating animal cruelty, merely posting an article asking if people WOULD eat guinea pig, and they are consumed for food in some cultures, specifically in South America. Farm animals ARE slaughtered for food........that's the nature of BEING farm animals. I'm a bit confused as to why you would state such a thing in that manner? Did you think that raising animals on farms for consumption no longer existed? Nobody is suggesting we "go thru the rest of the animal kingdom", either, nor is it a matter of "what" tastes best. Different strokes for different folks.