I had a guinea pig as a pet when I was in elementary school. His name was Guinea (I know, really original). He was brown with a little splash of white on his chest. He had a cute pink nose. He was kind of a nibbler (he would often bite me with his two sharp teeth), and whatever he put in his mouth came out the other end. I guess it comes as no surprise, then, that I had to change Guinea’s cage frequently. What I didn’t realize in his very short life was that he froze to death. I didn’t know it then, but I had put Guinea’s cage right under the air conditioner. He died of pneumonia, and I spent a whole afternoon in bed holding my dead guinea pig, feeling like I had wronged the poor thing. I had been a very irresponsible pet owner.
As is the case with other household pets (like fish, dog, and turtle), guinea pigs (or “cuy,” in Spanish) are cultural delicacies in some parts of the world. Although I couldn’t bear to order it last year in Ecuador, “cuy” is a pretty common item on traditional restaurant menus.
I am a vegetarian cook, so the thought of killing and roasting a small guinea pig sounds awfully unappetizing to me. Even more baffling to me is how anyone could find the little meat on a guinea pig worth eating or even the slightest bit delectable. According to Wikipedia, it tastes like rabbit or dark chicken meat.
“Cuy” can be fried, roasted, broiled, or served in soup. It is commonly found in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, as indigenous tribes in the area would cook them for ceremonial purposes. Peruvians consume over 50 million guinea pigs a year. If that number doesn’t surprise you, then this fun fact will: the past two decades have seen a rise in guinea pig exporting from South America to the U.S., Europe, and even parts of Asia. To be certain, it has become more acceptable to eat guinea pig as a common meal. Some restaurants in New York City now serve “cuy asado” and hang them in the window like Peking duck in Chinatown.
I don’t think we have to worry yet about locking up our pet guinea pigs for fear of someone killing and eating them, but I know my little Guinea is rolling in his grave in pet heaven thinking about how his life could have ended.