Unexpected Pets and Unexpected Meals


In the U.S. we view these cute rodents as pets.

I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try guinea pig in Peru, though I’ve heard it’s quite a delicacy. My Peruvian friends tell me the meat is tender with fine bones embedded - eating cuy provides delight but requires a level of vigilance.

Americans often feel a little squeamish thinking about guinea pig as a meal, and I get it, but I also find it fascinating. This is mainly because I’m always a little enthralled by which animals are deemed a protected - or, at times, condemned -class. My go-to example is always going to be the cow in India and Nepal. Because cows are sacred in the Hindi-majority countries, it is illegal to kill them. My host family told me cows hold that sacred position due to their usefulness; not only do female cows provide milk, but families with large swaths of agricultural land utilize cows in farming.

There are a few things to note with this. The first is a warning: if you are a traveler to Nepal or India, avoid beef on any restaurant menu. It may be that whatever cow turned into that food was sick or dead for a few days before being sold to the restaurant. There’s also a possibility that the cow was killed outside country borders and then transported back - again bringing up issues of sanitation and bacterial stuff.

The inability to kill cows also caused another problem: stray cows, usually of the male variety. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why this happens, but it does, and it means often teenaged cows wander the streets leading to Kathmandu, as well as around the city itself. I never saw them cause too much trouble aside from adding to the congestion and filth of the city.

So intentional cow deaths are a no go in India and Nepal, as are dog and guinea pig deaths in the United States. Conversely, cultures around the world and across time (stereotypically in China, but also in countries in Africa, pre-Americanized Hawaii, and South Korea) consume dogs. A quick look at the history of eating dogs indicates some fascinating facts, such as that some cultures domesticated the wolf for their meat, and thus some breeds of dogs were developed specifically for consumption. I’ve also learned some cultures killed and ate dogs for ritualistic and religious purposes; often these dogs experienced a higher standard of living than other animals used for consumption.

Overall, it seems which animals are consumed in whichever culture is often based in centuries of history and development. My opinion on it is this: as long as the animals are treated well in life, I won’t judge a culture for which animals it eats. I also know that dogs respond to warmth in every culture I’ve been in - and I’ve been told that unexpected animals do as well, such as a turkey that was taken in by a family as a pet and became a companion in the way that a dog or cat is a companion for us.

So - my question for you is, what unexpected pets have you had in your life? What about unfamiliar meats you’ve tried?

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