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Pet food

Lima: Sitting at a restaurant known for its typical Andean dishes, Lilia Chauca puts aside her fork and knife and digs into a plate of guinea pig, fried golden brown.

"You need to eat this with your hands," she says, tearing off a leg.

The guinea pig is a cuddly pet for millions of children in the United States and around the world. In Peru, the rodent's birthplace, it remains a vital source of protein in rural communities, a mainstay of Andean folk medicine and a religious sacrifice to the gods.

For more than 25 years, Chauca and her team of researchers at the National Institute of Agrarian Investigation have worked to breed faster growing, plumper, tastier guinea pigs. Peruvians eat 65 million guinea pigs each year, she says.

Chauca says the animals are raised in about 98 per cent of rural Andean households in Peru. Often as many as several dozen can be found scampering underfoot by the kitchen stove or are kept in adobe brick enclosures. They are fed alfalfa and vegetable peels.

Guinea pigs also are a common food source in Ecuador's Andes as well as in parts of Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.

The animal is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol and it has a distinctive flavour.

Picking the scant, sinewy meat from the bony carcass invariably requires two hands. It is often served with the head staring up from the plate - one more element that turns off many foreign tourists.

It is common to find guinea pig served deep fried at roadside stalls in Andean hamlets. On a recent day outside the village of Quinua, foreign tourists were found debating whether to sample one.

"You want that guinea pig without a tail, right?" a vendor joked. In the Peruvian lexicon, guinea pig with a tail is a rat.

Archaeological evidence shows guinea pigs were domesticated in Peru as far back as 2500 BC, and probably long before that, said Daniel Sandweiss, an archaeologist at the University of Maine.

His excavation in the 1980s in the Chincha Valley, near Peru's central Pacific coast, proved that current ritual healing practices with guinea pigs date back at least to the Inca empire which reached its height in the 1400s before the Spanish conquest.

Peruvians of varying social classes still seek out ritual healers, or "curanderos", who use guinea pigs to diagnose illnesses.

The curandero rubs a guinea pig over the patient's body, then splits the creature down the middle to look for discolouration that is believed to indicate illness in the corresponding organ or body part of the human.

"We use CAT scans, and they use guinea pig scans. That's the idea," Sandweiss said.

In the village of Huasao, a 20-minute drive south of Cuzco, Clemente Villanueva, a third generation curandero, treats bad luck with tipsy guinea pigs.

Grasping a jet-black guinea pig, he forces it to drink a tall glass of beer. The animal's power to remove bad luck is stronger when it is drunk, Villanueva explains as he adorns the glassy-eyed rodent with coloured ribbons before rubbing it over a patient.

He says the guinea pig will be set free in the countryside, ribbons and all, but will remain highly contagious with bad luck that will pass to anyone who has the misfortune to cross its path.

A 17th century native chronicler, Guaman Poma de Ayala, wrote that the Incas sacrificed 1,000 white guinea pigs along with 100 llamas in Cuzco's main plaza each July "so that neither the sun nor the waters would harm the food and the fields".

From the beginning of the Spanish colonisation, the Catholic Church brutally suppressed Indian religious icons. But the guinea pig was spared.

Geronimo de Loayza, the first bishop of Lima from 1545 to 1575, refused a request by Spanish priests to order the mass extermination of the rodents, fearing it would spark a rebellion.

The Spanish colonisers made Indian artists paint, weave and carve items with Catholic themes to decorate churches and evangelise the natives. The artists copied prints imported from Europe, but added Peruvian touches, creating a unique "Andean baroque" style.

Today, churches in Lima and Cuzco still display Indian depictions of the Last Supper with Jesus and the 12 disciples feasting on roasted guinea pig.


I haven't any guinea pigs left over...

No idea why posting this seems like a good idea...adds to the forum flavour I suppose.

Regard from OZ

-- Pieter (, August 07, 2000


Pieter, for once I wasn't eating breakfast as I surfed this board, good thing! I know other cultures eat different animals than we do, but the thought of a furry guinea pig staring back at me from my plate is an image powerful enough to almost make me want to skip breakfast.


-- (, August 07, 2000.


Awwww come on,I bet the little feller would taste just dandy with an ice cold Dew ; )

-- capnfun (, August 07, 2000.

Now there's a thought, Capt'n Fun.

Don't believe the rumor that I pour Dew on my cereal if I've run out of milk.

-- (, August 07, 2000.

You want fries with that? (Overheard at McGuinea Pig -- millions and millions served)

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), August 07, 2000.


I think they remove the fur before serving. I remember as a kid going to a deer farm in Wisconsin. I petted the deer, rode a horse, etc., with a girl my age. I think my parents knew her parents, although I can't remember for sure. ANYWAY, she asked me if I'd ever tasted froglegs. I said, "No." She took me to the pond and I helped her catch frogs. She routinely cut off the legs and threw the rest of the frog back into the water [where they were quickly eaten by ducks.] Her mom fried up the legs for us all. I would think guinea pig tastes like chicken. Everything else does.

-- Anita (, August 07, 2000.


-- cin (cin@cinn.cin), August 07, 2000.

Maybe there is some sort of survival value in squeamishness, so many people seem to be affected by it. But I heartily doubt it.

As for me, I think squeamishness is just a symptom of ignorance. Ignorance may be unavoidable in the face of the unfamiliar, but there is no point to holding onto it one moment longer than necessary.

After all, what is any different about eating a guinea pig than eating a rabbit?

-- Brian McLaughlin (, August 07, 2000.

There are plenty of people who are disgusted by the American appetite for pork. In fact, it's hard to think of a single food that isn't disgusting to some other group, people, or culture. I don't know that I'd try a big ol' plate of guinea pig, but I don't condemn anyone else for it.

-- Tarzan the Ape Man (, August 07, 2000.

Next up: Dan Aykroyd doing a commercial on SNL for the "Guinea-Pig-O-Matic"... "Ummmmm... That's good guinea pig!" says Laraine Newman as she smiles to show all the fur caught in her teeth.

(I know. Sick. But if the people on Survivor can eat bug larvae and watch Rich parading around with his fat nekkid yuppie ass hanging out, you realize that people can adapt to almost anything they have to.)

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), August 07, 2000.

Not sure what's sicker...Americans eating pork, or Americans keeping pigs as pets in the house..hmm.

When I was a kid, we didn't own a farm, but we lived in farm country, and getting cute yellow furry chicks for Easter was almost as wonderful as getting a puppy for me. Then when the chicks got big enough, my dad would butcher them and my mom would cook them. I thought nothing wrong with that, as long as I wasn't made to witness the butchering or made to eat those chickens.

Me and my friends who's parents had a farm, used to pet, play and give names to cute little lambs and other cute farm animals, always knowing that someday they'd be on our table or someone else's table. That's farm life.

I see nothing different with this Andean culture of domesticating and eating guinea pigs.

Now with dogs and cats, well, that's different for me. But not so for vietnamese, who apparently sell cute puppies in cages at meat markets. To each culture it's own preference in meat and pets, I guess.

-- (pondering@home..), August 07, 2000.

But guinea pigs are just tribbles-with-an-attitude, and Lieutenant Uhura assured us that all they need to give us is love!

-- Whatever (, August 07, 2000.

>> But guinea pigs are just tribbles-with-an-attitude <<

Maybe the better analog is the shmoo, a creature dreamed up by Al Capp for the Lil Abner comic strip. They were little blobs with mustaches (so, clearly a mammal) and would voluntarily toss themselves into a frying pan whenever they thought a human was hungry. (When not self-basting, they liked to do housework.)

BTW, they didn't taste like chicken - they tasted like ham, if I recall rightly.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, August 07, 2000.

No wonder guinea pigs jump and run like hell when you try to pet them. They just *know* what's coming. Poor little things. =o(

-- cin (cin@cinn.cin), August 07, 2000.

Oops, I got sucked into this thread, I actually thought someone was posting a recipe to *make* pet food, not making pets *food*!

I used to have a guinea pig, named Herbert. I can't imagine wanting to eat him, but Anita is right, he probably would have tasted like chicken (sorry Cin). I have eaten goat and frogs legs... and it all tasted like chicken.

-- Grace (, August 08, 2000.

I ate cat once.

-- food (, August 08, 2000.


Guinea-pig Stew

* 2 pounds guinea-pig tenderloin -- 1-inch Cubes
* flour -- for dredging
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons oil
* 2 cloves garlic -- minced
* salt and pepper
* 2 cups dry red wine
* 2 cubes guinea-pig bouillon
* (dissolved in 2 cups boiling water)
* 1 baking potatoes -- grated
* 1 onion
* (studded with 2 cloves)
* 2 teaspoons thyme
* 1 bay leaf
* 8 red potatoes -- quartered
* 8 carrots -- sliced
* 4 stalks celery -- sliced
* 8 tiny white onions
* 1 cup (or 2) tomato juice
* handful fresh parsley -- finely chopped

Dredge meat in flour. Melt butter and oil in large pot; add garlic. Cook the guinea-pig just to rare; remove from pot and refrigerate. Add wine and bouillon to pan and scrape up bits stuck to bottom. Add potato, onion, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to boil, cover and simmer 1 hour. Add potatoes, carrots, celery and onions; simmer 1/2 hour. Add tomato juice, as necessary for nice gravy. Add guinea-pig cubes, reheat; toss in parsley and serve.

Just trying to be helpful...

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (, August 08, 2000.


2 Pounds of guinea pig tenderloin? Do you have any idea how many guinea pigs it would take to come up with 2 pounds of tenderloin? They are really nothing more than fuzzy little rats, hardly any meat at all!

-- Grace (, August 08, 2000.

The 1-inch guinea pig tenderloin cubes might be a little problem around where I live. The store I normally go to only carries "standard" size guinea pig filets (which are usually so small they slip right through the grate of the barbecue). Would it be a socially embarrassing faux pas to serve my guests their guinea pig as a shish kabob with mushrooms, peppers, and a vintage Cabernet Sauvignon?

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), August 08, 2000.

Guinea pigs are very good eating..never made stew only grilled over a cool fire,but I do take the head off. As for cats they are good also,a little stringy if they are free range cats. It used to almost bother me when neighbors put their posters around the neighborhood.

-- meat be meat (pigs or c@ts.groceries), August 08, 2000.

And where can one find "guinea pig bouillon"?

-- cin (cin@cinn.cin), August 08, 2000.

-- (licking.chops@mmm.mmm), August 11, 2000.

cats don't taste like chicken..closer to whooping cranes or bald eagles..

-- meat be meat (whether be c@t.or fowl), August 11, 2000.

A skun cat, a skun possum, and a skun mickey rabbit, look alike in a baking dish. They do taste different though. Can't say I'm partial to cat, but possum in ginger sauce is all right at a pinch. Was brought up on rabbit. Most rural OZ people were. Good ferrets were 16 pounds per pair once. We used them for rabbiting. There was a rabbit canning factory here years ago. It was all exported to Pommie land where they thought highly of it. Poor bastards.

-- Pieter (, August 11, 2000.

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