A reader writes:
Your reader’s story about Peru reminded me of my ex-girlfriend. She was a doctor and spent quite a bit of time volunteering for a poor village in the Andes. She said that nearly everyone raised guinea pigs at home and they were considered a good dish to serve a special guest. As a visiting doctor from America providing free medical care, everyone considered her a special guest. Nearly every night some family would invite her over for dinner and they’d all insist on serving her guinea pig. By the end of her stay, she would spend the better part of each evening begging her host for the night to please serve anything other than guinea pig. She was a well-traveled woman, not a picky eater in the slightest, but apparently that was one taste she was never able to acquire. Granted, I was never able to discern if this was due to the taste itself or the notion of eating a common childhood pet.
Another quotes Michael Todd:
[G]uinea pig is good for you, with more protein and less fat than flesh from pigs, cows, sheep, or chickens. Guinea pig is also good for Mother Earth—you don’t need a Ponderosa-sized spread to raise them, and they convert their feed into edible protein twice as efficiently as a cow.
That could be in large part because any animal that is raised for food is raised today in a way that makes it bad for you, and guinea pigs aren’t currently raised for food. If they were raised for food, they would be raised in vast numbers in horrid factory farms.
They would be bred to gain tons of weight and get very fat very fast. They would be virtually immobilized in intense confinement for their entire lives and fed a diet that is not natural for them (all corn and/or soy, including pesticides). They would live in their own waste and every breath would be filled with the ammonia that the waste emits, burning their lungs and eyes as it enters their bodies.
Their food would contain antibiotics. They would likely be given growth hormones. Their flesh would cease even to resemble the flesh of their non-factory-farmed ancestors – just like meat today has very little in common with the meat that used to exist in the wild, and is far less healthful to consume than the meat that used to exist in the wild. Oh, and just like the eggs, meat, and dairy from factory farms today, it would have deceptive “humane myth” labeling such as “Cage-Free”; “Free-Range”; “All Natural”; “Humane Certified” and other such non-defined marketing terms.
Guinea pig flesh would no longer have “more protein and less fat than flesh from pigs, cows, sheep, or chickens.” It would have a far higher fat content than it does today. Further, “twice as efficiently as a cow” is still horribly inefficient compared to plant-based foods. And to the extent their flesh replaced the flesh of larger animals, there would be more suffering in the world because it would take more individuals to produce the same quantity of flesh as larger animals. Everything that industrial agriculture touches gets destroyed.
I couldn’t resist sending in the attached photo of a guinea pig roasting on the grill, taken in Otavalo, Ecuador back in 2006. I tasted some of the finished product, and it wasn’t terrible, more or less like somewhat greasy quail. We subsequently visited the home of an indigenous family, who had dozens of them running around the dirt floor of the house. The grandmother would toss them some grain to keep them fed, and I guess would just grab one or more of them up when it was time to make dinner. As far as I could tell, guinea pigs are very much a rural/Indian thing in Ecuador, as I did not see any on the menu when I was in the capital, Quito.
Aside from the cuteness issue, I can’t really see guinea pig taking off as a food item in lieu of poultry or other meats. There’s not very much meat on those bones.
Anecdotal evidence from friends who have visited Peru: if you order guinea pig in a restaurant, be sure to ask that it be served with the head attached, so you can be sure you’re getting guinea pig and not rat.
I had an odd feeling that I had read about eating guinea pig on your blog previously, and thanks to your highly functional and awesome new search bar, I confirmed my suspicion: “Eating The Family Pet“. Okay, I’m not sure how likely it really is that I remembered this small item from five years ago. I probably read about it somewhere else and this is a coincidence. Still, the new search is awesome!
At the Cathedral in Cuzco, Peru, there is a wonderful Last Supper with guinea pig as the main course:
(Top photo of “home grown” guinea pigs in Peru by Sam Judson)