As we've learned from the death of Cecil the lion and the ensuing media catastrophe, hell hath no fury like a mob of angry animal-lovers who have witnessed (literally or psychologically) the annihilation of a cute creature. Clucking, dirty-feathered chickens are slaughtered in the billions. Piglets become pigs, which become bacon. But lay a hand on something fuzzy, and brace yourself for the pitchforks and scythes.
Most would argue that llamas and alpacas fall into the "cute stuff" category, rendering them largely exempt from dinner plates. But maybe we're missing out. You know, on the taste of their flesh.
Australia's alpaca farmers seem to think so, which is why a group of them have launched a campaign to promote the meat of their cuddly camelids, according to ABC Rural.
Although alpacas have only been raised in Australia for about 30 years, farmers on the Western side of the country are eager to make the transition from selling not only their fleece—which is used to make warm, soft, hypoallergenic wool—but also their flesh, which is described as "buttery" and similar to milk-fed veal.
To achieve this, farmers have been approaching butcher shops and restaurants in efforts to get alpaca onto more menus and demand for the product and awareness about the benefits of eating it. (Others sell their meat online.) The meat is low-fat, low-calorie, and low-cholesterol compared to beef and pork, as well as very tender and high in protein.
And apparently, it tastes pretty good. (It has seen growing popularity in Peru in the past few years as well.) Mahlon Hotker, an alpaca farmer from Albany and member of the Australian Alpaca Association, tells ABC that the meat is "not as gamey in flavour as some might imagine" and that it's "very tasty," "delicious" even.
"It's a very mild meat, and it takes on flavours that you cook with very well," he said. "It's very low in fat, possibly the lowest in fat of any grazing animal, and also the highest in iron."
The alpacas in question wouldn't be raised and killed specifically for their meat, but as much as 60 pounds of meat can be harvested off of each animal that is slaughtered as part of the herd-culling process. If you don't cull your herd, "you fill up your property with animals and you can't progress," as Hotker describes it. If some alpacas are being sold for meat, the rest of the herd can continue to be bred for better health.
There's still a ways to go, however, in terms of convincing the public to eat alpacas, although strides have been made over the past year and a half since the campaign began. Now, Hotker says that about half of people surveyed are into the idea of sinking their teeth into some alpaca chops.
To the haters, he shrugs, "It's a different matter when you bring in a mob of wethers that are being run for meat, and you get in the middle of those—the cute, cuddly aspect disappears pretty quickly."
Peter Eades, a fellow alpaca farmer from Redmond, isn't as keen on the idea of slaughtering his fur babies to be made into burgers.
"Trying to chop them up for minced meat or neck chops is a bit hard for me … It'd be like eating your own kids," he told ABC. "They're very affectionate, very friendly animals, and very inquisitive animals I might add, too."
But local restaurants such as Albany's Rats Bar—which serves alpaca rack—have already embraced the idea.
"It hasn't caught on as much as what we'd hoped … [but] it's had quite a warm reception from the few people that have tried it," chef Damien Whitely said.
Hey, we eat lamb and rabbit without batting an eye. And let's be honest, those little buggers are pretty damn adorable.
Just make sure you don't accidentally kill Australia's most beloved alpaca. That could end up being a bit of a disaster.