This letter is in response to the article, “A Dish That Gets Fuzzy Reception,” by Jane Black, published in today’s Washington Post (July 23, 2008).
According to the Pet Products Manufacturing Association, there are now over 6.2 million pet rabbits in the United States, and that number is increasing every day. Indeed, after cats and dogs, rabbits are becoming one of America’s most popular pets. The web site of House Rabbit Society, an international rabbit rescue and education organization, now receives over 2.6 million hits from individuals interested in rabbits as house pets. I wager that these folks would be as repelled by the idea of eating a rabbit as would most Americans of eating a cat or a dog for dinner.
Beyond that population, there are many millions of Americans who don’t live with a pet rabbit who also view the consumption of rabbits as an abhorrent practice. The problem most Americans have with eating rabbits can’t simply be dismissed with the term the “Easter Bunny Syndrome.”
Most people now know that rabbits are intelligent, funny, curious, and emotionally engaging animals, whose role in millions of American households rivals the family’s dog or cat. They sleep on (or under) our beds, eat from our refrigerators, and chew on our shoes. Americans do not want to think that a cherished companion animal is also kept in horrible, overcrowded conditions simply to be slaughtered (by unspeakably cruel methods) for human consumption.
Chefs who serve rabbits in their restaurants and breeders who raise them for slaughter lament the fact that rabbit meat suffers an image problem and blame unsophisticated Americans for the Easter Bunny syndrome that keeps them from eating rabbit meat. While it’s easy to make fun of the millions of Americans who see rabbits as pets, I imagine Mr. Whitman would hesitate before ridiculing our love of dogs or cats, no matter how lean or flavorful they may be. And while Chef Whitman claims that the rabbits being slaughtered and served for his customers are “not the same as a pet bunny,” he is categorically wrong. Rabbits raised for meat are exactly the same as the rabbits kept in our homes. To tell the public that they are different animals is not only disingenuous but deceitful.
While I recognize that most Americans do eat meat (although less frequently than ever), I am saddened and repulsed by this trend of chefs encouraging the consumption of more and more animals. My question to Chef Frigerio and Chef Armstrong is: What, or who, will be next?
Margo DeMello, Ph.D.
President, House Rabbit Society
Co-Author, Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature