Rees and Col Campbell know that backyard guinea pig farming is not for everyone.
“Certainly it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to grow and kill their own guinea pigs for meat,” Ms Campbell said.
And, since the Campbells’ guinea pigs live “happy” lives, the couple argue that eating them is more socially and ethically responsible than consuming many other meats.
“It is a kinder all-round way of eating meat,” Ms Campbell said.
The Campbells grow almost all of their own food on their one-acre block of land in the north-western Tasmanian town of Wynyard.
An orchard, a berry patch, a vegie garden and a collection of more than 120 species of edible Tasmanian native plants provide the plant-based part of the couple’s diet, while the pair also produce their own meat.
“We have quail, which we have for meat and eggs, and … guinea pigs, which we have to both clean up all the garden rubbish, and [to] eat,” Ms Campbell said.
The couple have kept between 10 and 25 guinea pigs on their property for the past five years.
Males and females both free range but are kept apart; the males occupy the vegie patch, the females run free in the orchard, and their offspring are either eaten or sold.
Guinea pig cacciatore, anyone?
The Campbells, who also eat wild-shot meats like wallaby and rabbit, usually eat a home-grown guinea pig every two to three weeks.
“Its quite a dense meat, so … one guinea pig weighing perhaps 600 grams will certainly feed both Col and I a couple of meals in a stew,” Ms Campbell said.
The taste of the meat, she said, is difficult to describe, although without being “gamey”, it is more “meaty” than rabbit.
When talking to others about their consumption of guinea pigs, Ms Campbell said she and Col get “polarised responses”.
“One of course is, ‘Oh, how could you do that? They’re cute!’ And the other is, ‘Wow, how interesting … what do they taste like?’,” she said.
Conversely, Ms Campbell said the reactions of all the dinner guests to whom they have offered guinea pig meat have been positive.
Too cute to eat?
The Campbells and their dinner guests fit into a huge population of guinea pig-consumers worldwide.
“Guinea pig is one of the most widely eaten meats in the world, particularly in South America, the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia,” she explained.
Ms Campbell attributed this to the ease with which guinea pigs can be grown to eating-size while living only off garden scraps, almost regardless of a family’s level of poverty, or property size.
In contrast, the widespread unpopularity of guinea pig meat in Australia, Ms Campbell believed, was largely due to the animals’ cuteness.
“Australians seem to have some strange views on which animals are cute and which aren’t, and I think there’s an aversion to eating what is seen as cute,” she explained.
Guinea pigs living it up
Producing guinea pig meat was more environmentally, ethically and socially responsible than producing other types of meat, Ms Campbell said.
It rates highly on the sustainability scale due to guinea pigs not needing protein in their diet, and not emitting methane or causing soil compaction, she said.
Ms Campbell said the ethical advantages of eating guinea pigs arise from the animals — at least, those on her property — living happy lives.
“Our animals here live a really good life — they live free range … they live as a family unit [and] they’re used to being picked up, so they never experience fear,” she said.
Ms Campbell said she did not find it difficult to butcher and eat her guinea pigs, due to the quality of life she ensures they have.
“[It’s a] position that I’m very socially happy to have taken,” she said.
Valuing what we eat
Ms Campbell said she believed society needed to develop a greater appreciation of not only the meat, but of all the food people consumed.
Growing your own produce where possible, and ensuring that any animals you keep have a good life and a “good, non-traumatised death” is one way to be “aware of what you’re really doing”, she says.
While acknowledging that not everyone is willing or able to farm their own animals, Ms Campbell said she thought our position at the top of the food chain should not be taken lightly.
“I think it’s really important, on an individual basis as well as a societal basis, to take responsibility for the fact that you are killing other animals,” she said.