Exotic Meats Trending Despite Animal Taboos

Exotic Meats Trending Despite Animal Taboos

To most Americans, what passes for adventurous eating is serving duck instead of turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. But what about dining on alligator, crickets or kangaroo? Meat-eating Americans will typically stick with chicken, beef or pork both at home and dining out. TV shows such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern are more popular than ever but there is still a stigma behind eating certain meats. As exotic foods are making appearances on TV screens and restaurant menus more often, perhaps Americans will drop the taboo and open their minds and mouths to exotic animal-based proteins.

Ikea, the Swedish furniture store, was accused in 2013 of putting horse meat in their Swedish meatballs in Europe, leading to customer backlash all the way in America. The companies Nestle and Birds Eye had a similar problem when they were forced to recall prepared meat products after horse meat was detected in their ravioli, lasagna and chili con carne. Of course customers want to trust the transparency of the products they are consuming but there is a double standard in Western countries when people are willing to eat certain animals but not others.

Although horse meat is eaten in many European countries, including Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland, it is off-limits for Americans. Christy Blum, 28, has confronted her food stigmas first-hand after moving from California to Zurich, Switzerland and seeing horse meat served all over the country. “My [Swiss] colleagues are always cornering me asking, ‘What’s the difference between horse and cow? Why do you eat cow but think horse is disgusting?’” says Blum. “My husband has cooked it and put it on my dinner plate several times without telling me upfront just to prove a point, which is so mean!” Blum admits that she can’t tell the different in taste, but she tries to avoid eating horse on principle.

Perhaps Americans don’t like to eat anything that is considered a pet. After Whole Foods began selling rabbit meat in select locations during the summer of 2014, thousands of people were outraged. There was even a petition on Change.org with over 57,000 names against the grocery store, saying that bunnies are pets, not food and that Whole Food’s farming methods were inhumane. Whole Foods stopped the sale of rabbit meat last October, citing low sales volumes as the cause. Yet rabbit meat is still served in restaurants and even food markets across New York.

The head chef of The Thirsty Koala, an Australian restaurant in Astoria, Queens, has encountered a similar resistance to the kangaroo meat on her menu. “The aboriginals have been eating kangaroo for meat for thousands of years, it’s not new but it’s not for everybody,” says Katherine Fuchs. Most of the customers ordering it have usually had it before in Australia but there are also a lot of curious people who inquire about it and others who try it for the first time at the restaurant. “When people don’t want to eat it, it’s usually because they think kangaroos are furry and cute and people are grossed out by eating them,” says Fuchs. “When people tell me they don’t want to try it because they feel bad, I say, ‘Do you feel the same way about cows, lamb and pork? They’re cute too.’”

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