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.
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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