A warning to those with a soft spot for pets — you might not want to keep reading because one of America’s favorite furry friends collides with the culinary world in the post to follow. Some of us are a bit squirrelly when it comes to beloved beasts like horses ending up as food for people, so there might be a few noses turned up at the thought of guinea pig on the menu. As in, to eat.
Influenced by South American culinary traditions from the Andes, which often feature guinea pigs as a dining delight, restaurants in the United States are following the trend serving up the furry animals on menus around the country.
NPR says South American restaurants in the states are likely responding to demand from Andean expats who cherish the guinea pig, called cuyes in Spanish, as a valuable food.
Diners are eating the cuyes cooked whole, grilled or deep fried, and enjoying every bit of the animal. And activists say it’s not just about the gusto gained for eaters, but it’s good for the environment.
Once science writer with The Nature Conservancy explains that rodents and other small creatures are a low-impact meat alternative, as opposed to beef, which costs a lot of fossil fuels to raise and destroys forests in the process. He says conservation groups were pushing to put guinea pig on the plate.
“They were encouraging people to switch from cattle to guinea pigs,” he told NPR. “Guinea pigs don’t require the land that cattle do. They can be kept in backyards, or in your home. They’re docile and easy to raise.”
Most guinea pigs for human consumption come into the U.S. by way of Peru as whole, frozen, hairless rodents in plastic bags, so it’s not like these restaurants are buying up stock at your local pet store.
While there are restaurants around the country serving up guinea pig, due to its long tradition as a pet it’s doubtful whether the craze will spread any farther than foodies and Andean expats, notes the science writer.
“There’s a clear cultural prejudice against eating guinea pigs, and rodents in general, in the United States,” he says. “But finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint is a good idea, and so is eating small livestock, like guinea pigs.”