From Pet to Plate: Guinea Pigs

Recent news articles have brought my attention to the farming of the guinea pig as an alternative meat animal.  Apparently it’s popular in South America, where it’s known as cuyes or cuy.  People eat them whole roasted, rather like tiny chickens, and the author of the NPR piece goes into entirely too much detail about eating the “fingery little hands”.  I am aware that humans will eat just about anything, so it’s not too much of a surprise that someone, somewhere, is eating guinea pig.

The guinea pig is supposed to be more “eco-friendly” than, say, beef — it’s more efficient at turning food into meat and it certainly takes up a lot less space.  Heifer International provides guinea pigs (amongst many other species) to people in developing countries to provide meat and income.  So there might be benefits to farming guinea pigs instead of cattle or pigs.

My immediate concern with the idea is this: it doesn’t really matter what animal you’re talking about — if you’re producing enough of them, they’re going to get factory farmed.  When you picture “guinea pig housing” right now, you’ve probably got a mental picture of something like this:

These are, of course, pet guinea pigs.  They’re in a pretty big space, with a couple of square feet per guinea pig.  Here, according to Google Images, anyway, is what “farmed” guinea pig housing looks like these days:

This is what it looks like when you move from “pet” to “farm” — much less space per animal, more animals in one room.  If guinea pig meat becomes popular, these little farms will want to — will need to, to keep up with demand — become even more “efficient”, cramming more animals in the same area.  What will an “efficient” guinea pig farming operation — capable of feeding several hundred thousand humans — look like?

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5 responses to “From Pet to Plate: Guinea Pigs

  1. You are aware that those are excellent conditions compared to the conditions that those pet guinea pigs were bred in? Have you seen pet-store supplier centers? They’re pretty scary. I’d be happy to see guinea pigs like that. Also consider that guniea pigs are social and like to be together. Even though it’s not a lot of space “per” guinea pig, since they get along they all have a larger space. Frankly I’d love to see animals raised like those farmed guinea pigs.

    • Actually, yes, the conditions in the photo are pretty great conditions — the piggies look healthy and the enclosures look clean. That is Step Two, the move from “pet” to “farm animal”, which is not necessarily a terrible thing. My worry is Step Three, where that farm (or ones like it) make the next move to — well, let’s call it “industrial” — where facilities start producing more piggies than they can handle. My point (which was probably not very well made; I apologize) is that guinea pigs have the same issues all domestic animals do — once you start making sufficient numbers of them, husbandry quality goes way down. :/ They may be “better than cows” for meat, but until that fundamental problem with animal husbandry goes away, I’m still sticking to lettuce. :)

      • That is fair. In truth, most people could raise a small (and sufficient) amount of meat for themselves in a very small space with no isuues whatsoever. Personally, I raise rabbits and I am branching into chickens and later ducks. It takes about the end 20 feet of my 40-foot-wide lawn to do all three of those in excess for my two-person household, and rabbits and guinea pigs can even be raised in small apartments. And I think that’s part of the point; guinea pigs are far more sustainable than cows in a big way. If everyone kept a few breeding guinea pigs around we may not need cows at all!

  2. Let’s not forget of course that guinea pigs don’t want to get killed and eaten any more than chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, pigs (or humans for that matter) do.

    • Absolutely true — if one’s (primary) objection to eating meat is that the production of meat involves killing a living, thinking being, switching from cows to guinea pigs doesn’t improve the situation either. I’m not sure it even counts as one of those “small steps toward moving away from cruelty” either…you’d have to kill dozens of guinea pigs to equal the amount of meat from one cow. Just because guinea pigs are smaller than cows does not make them in any way less important, or less alive.

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