Tuesday, May 31, 2011

African lion, stay away from me

Today I came across this article, which reveals an underworld of illicit rare game meat suppliers in Illinois, focusing on the sale of African lion meat in restaurants around the country. I have to say that it's already a little strange to think of eating an African lion--I mean, I guess it's an animal like any other animal, but it doesn't seem like African lions would be particularly plentiful, easy to kill, or even tasty, given how lean their meat must be. Indeed, the author notes that African lion "actually tastes like pork. Except it’s chewy, and costs $60 a pound at Savenor’s."

So it's even more surprising that the African lion you get at a specialty meat shop might not even be African Lion at all, but might actually be endangered Bengal tiger. Maybe that's why it costs $60 a pound? But that seriously doesn't make sense to me. Why would it be easier to procure meat from an endangered tiger than an (apparently) more abundant African lion? Where are these endangered tigers coming from? How are endangered tiger cubs so easy to come by in Illinois?

Anyway, even that isn't the strangest part of the article--it goes on to talk about a snow plow business in Chicago that is actually a front for a small-scale endangered tiger butcher. Somewhere in the middle of the article you also get this fantastic image:
There’s no such thing as lion farms,” said Tim Santel. More often it’s “a woman living paycheck to paycheck in a trailer home who keeps her lion in a chain-link fence."
First of all, WHAT? Second, I think I have figured out what my job is going to be after I finish my PhD next year--I'm going to start an organic lion farm in the Central Valley. There's tons of empty space and the climate seems like it must be pretty similar. Whenever I see lions in a nature show it looks like it's pretty dry around them, just as dry as the drive down I-5 from Oakland to Los Angeles. There's clearly a pretty large untapped market for lion meat, and it sells for $60 a pound. You can sell organic, sustainably-raised meat for, oh, I don't know, five times as much as conventional meat. And, hey, if some supposed lady in a trailer home with a chainlink fence can figure out how to start a lion farming business, it should be a piece of cake after nine years of higher education in chemical engineering. I'll just... pretend that lions are a chemical.

This is the best idea I have ever had.

It's funny because this isn't the first I've heard of Czimer's Game and Seafood, the company that is selling this endangered tiger meat raised in a trailer park and slaughtered in a snowplow factory. A few months ago I stumbled upon this blog entry from the French Culinary Institute, which describes the techniques they used to cook african lion, black bear, raccoon, yak, and beaver. Now, given Czimer's less-than-thorough sourcing of their meats, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the meats shown were actually endangered Bengal tiger, endangered Grizzly bear, miniature Panda, Yeti, and, I don't know, some kind of extinct beaver. But, whatever, regardless of its actual provenance or taxonomy--the braised beaver tail looks awesome. I was actually thinking of ordering some to make beaver tail tacos for some really special occasion, like Thanksgiving, Easter, or MIT's 150th Anniversary.

But now, after realizing that a lot of the beavers sold through these rare meat companies are potentially raised in a kiddie pool with a bunch of Lincoln Logs thrown in once a week--well, I've had second thoughts.

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