Cuy: It’s What’s For Dinner

guinea-pig2Visit an Andean village, and you have a decent chance of seeing a few cuy — also known as guinea pigs — running around homes.

These aren’t pets. If you stick around that village, you may very well be served one for dinner.

Cuy is a dish served in many parts of the Andes on special occasions — roasted whole as pictured above. Increasingly,  it’s also a tourist favorite for those who fashion themselves in the model of Andrew Zimmern (of television’s Bizarre Foods).

One person’s “bizarre food” is another person’s hamburger, of course.

That aside, raising and eating cuy makes good ecological sense. But how, you ask?

Lately, meat consumption has been portrayed as a big “no-no” for those wanting to lower their carbon footprint. But there are a number of ways to enjoy your meat without a guilty conscience. One of those ways is small livestock — poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs — raised on a small scale.

Guinea pigs don’t require a lot of space. They’re quite happy to roam around a home and eat plant clippings.

In Ecuador, the Conservancy and partners are working to provide incentives to protect clean water for cities like Quito by conserving land along the watershed. To do so requires a reduction in cattle ranching to lessen erosion.

On some Ecuadorean properties, ranchers have now supplemented their income by raising guinea pigs. This agriculture requires no deforestation or land conversion. It simply requires a backyard or even a home.

And across the United States, backyard poultry advocates are encouraging more chicken-friendly cities. Even two or three chickens can provide eggs for you and your neighbors. (And they’re easy to raise).

Chickens can easily be raised for meat on a vacant lot — land that otherwise would not be used for food production.

My neighbor Mary Rohlfing of Morning Owl Farms has one of the largest duck egg farms in the country, as well as plenty of Thanksgiving turkeys, on just a few acres. Such farming is also a much lovelier use of land than the suburban sprawl that is enveloping everything around it.

All around the world, we could raise meat and eggs in backyards and back lots –– a good use of space and a good way to produce meat in a humane, local, low carbon way.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, roast cuy is delicious, with rich, dark, slightly stringy meat. (And no, it tastes nothing like chicken.)

(Image: Roasted cuy. Credit: Matt Miller/TNC.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Matt says that “Guinea pigs don’t require a lot of space. They’re quite happy to roam around a home and eat plant clippings.” If Guinea pigs are happy roaming around, how happy are they becoming my snack? I thus wonder how he can also tell us that “there are a number of ways to enjoy your meat without a guilty conscience”? The case for eating meat shouldn’t be made in a country that is over-consuming in terms of calories and impacts on the land locally, and the climate globally. For those of our species who are truly dependent on meat for survival and well-being, have at it. For Americans and others who can afford it, lay off the beef, and the chicken, and the guinea pig, and all the rest! Animals don’t need to suffer for our culinary entertainment.

  2. Please…Notice the eyes on the front of our faces; provided to predators to track running prey. We aree designed to eat meat. Hunters and small farmers as above do so sustainably. Eat soy if you want to, but lay off those of us who require meat. Do you even comprehend the multitudes of species (and tracts of habitat) that only exist due to legal and ethical hunting? If it were not for us meat eaters, there would be no place to even see wildlife in the US. Do your homework or keep it to yourself.

  3. I think eating meat should not be a very big issue unless it can potentially predispose one to diseases. It has been shown that red meat consumption lead to cancer. This does not mean no meat at all. It only mean we eat careful. The idea of maximising a small area for production of meat through chicken or pig farming is noble. But many places in dry countries have large areas where they can only raise their traditional breeds which provide them with important source of income for their survival.

  4. When we talk about the impact of meat consumption of the environment this refers to mass scale agribusiness that exists to feed the western diet. Agribusiness contributes more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere that auto auto emissions, not to mention the pollution from untreated manure, the vast tracts of lands that are laid to waste to support grazing etc. For those who are committed to ecological sustainability, vegetarian eating is form of everyday activism that targets one of the single greatest threats to the survival of the planet. If we are going to see meaningful change, a mental and then actual shift will have to occur in our lifestsyle, beginning with a shift from meat-based to vegetarian-based eating. Not to mention that doing so is better for everyone’s health, including human health (vegetarians have significantly lower rates of heart dieases, cancer, strokes and diabetes) as well as the health of animals who suffer unspeakable horrors to become food on our plates.

  5. Wow.. if i only had the claws to rip open a guinea pig and the teeth to tear its flesh from the bone… Humans are not built to eat meat. Our teeth and tongue are absolutely unlike any carnivore: we lack sharp long canines, and have a set of strong molars, good for chewing asparagus! Our digestive tracts are not unlike those of cows, long and thin, designed to process plant matter. If meat lingers long decomposing in these guts, it can only produce toxins that cause many diseases. So ruminate, if you can, on how much money you can save on future hospital bills by letting the guinea pigs (and all your chosen ‘hunted’) live in peace.

  6. “Our digestive tracts are not unlike those of cows, long and thin, designed to process plant matter.”

    Are you kidding us? Cows, and other ruminants, don’t have long, thin digestive tracts — they have four-chambered stomachs. That would be why they’ce called ruminants. Humans are not carnivores…have never been. Humans are omnivores, and our digestive system is almost exactly like a pig’s system — designed to digest everything going. We are much more like bears than wolves, to put a shade on comparisons with the wild. Thus we are fully capable of hunting, killing and eating meat; at the same time, we are fully capable of harvesting vegetative matter and eating it. We, like other omnivores, are less specialized and more capable of surviving under varied conditions than either herbivores or obligate carnivores.

    It is quite clear, however, that we developed our brains and hands as a result of making and successfully using tools for harvesting meat and defending ourselves against larger, faster and stronger predators. Hunting made us human, several million years ago — staying hunters helps us stay human. Denying hunting denies humanity.

    My daughters, raised as hunters and fishers, ate cuy in Sosuth America and enjoyed it quite a bit.

  7. It never fails. Those who choose to eat dead animals will go to great lengths to rationalize their destructive choice. Unless you can run down, kill, and eat a deer with only your feet, hands, and teeth, you are not a real predator. I don’t see many of you consuming raw meat that you killed with your bare hands, so stop elevating yourselves to actual hunters. You like the taste of death, but can’t admit that you’re making a selfish choice, so make up stories about how natural you are. It’s laughable, but you’re not fooling anyone.

    1. I’m a consumer of flesh, and devourer of life. Through me the destruction and betrayal of other species is ensured. I enjoy every moment of tasting and basking in the still bloodied meat of an animal I have murdered. There, you happy?

  8. JT…

    You have just demonstrated your lack of humanism, fueled by a sad anti-human misunderstanding of what made us “human” in the first place. Study paleohominids a bit, and you might grasp reality. On the other hand, your anti-reality weakness prevents you from interfering with our strength, so there’s a paradox for you to contemplate. Good luck figuring out the construct of the world you inhabit.

  9. How can you condone raising pets for meat in such a cold way? Talking about how happy a guinea pig is to roam around and eat plant clippings — then to talk about how delicious they taste? That’s part of the problem here: People have become desensitized and removed from the process of mass producing and killing all these animals. That is not good energy, or something that should be passed down to the next generation.

  10. UGH! What next, grow parakeets genetically and devour them? THis is just another symptom of human desensitization and anesthetizing ourselves to violence and suffering. We are SO adept at this.
    Interesting that the one word missing from EVERY discussion surrounding the economy and sustainable practices is “ETHICS.”
    Our relationship to and with other beings has become , as Dr. M.Scott Peck puts it in his book, People of the Lie, nacissistic.
    Humans suppose we are entitled to steal the parts, consequently, lives, (prematurely ) of other beings. We learned this behavior and it is reinforced every day in many ways.
    Our global society reflects this notion in the many predatory behaviors haunting humanity right now.
    Every child should be taken to an island haven where they learn reverence and respect for every other living being, as prophets taught long ago, and that a plant based diet aspires to the Godly, humane, healthy, merciful life we claim to desire but refuse to practice.
    Growing gardens is far better than dismembering our earthly neighbors who have suffered long enough under the weight of human oppression and cruelty.

  11. Disgusting and unscientific. Raising and eating many small animals instead of large ones is not the answer. All the environmental damage is there, but on mini-scales>but the sum is the same. Of course, as the U.N. has acknowledged (and started to dine by), raising animals for food is devastating for the environment in numerous ways (waste, greenhouse gases, etc.). Science is clear: the best things for human and environmental welfare is to eat a plant-based diets.

    The post that humans are ‘designed’ to eat meat is laughable. Here is a fun way to see how laughable:

  12. Wow Erik, I had no idea I only had eyes so I could track prey. I wonder why elephants and hippos and giraffes have eyes since they are herbivores. Talk about doing your homework. And I would love to know how it is that if it weren’t for meat-eaters, there would be “no place to see wildlife.” Especially since virtually all of the meat eaten in the US comes from dense factory farms, absolutely nothing to do with wildlife.
    Meat production causes almost 20% of carbon emissions in the US, way more than the 14% produced by ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. So don’t try to justify meat consumption as green in any way, shape or form. You have blood on your hands in more ways than one.

  13. This idea is ridiculous. Not only are rabbits and other small mammals incredibly intelligent, they’re also vegetarian. And vegetarian is what exactly we humans need to be if we are to stop laying waste to our planet, adding pounds to our waistlines, and killing other species for NO GOOD REASON. So grow a pear and stop beheading innocent creatures.

  14. While everyone has made some good points I would just like to speak a little about guinea pigs in particular. While many of us, like myself, probably had one as a pet growing up it wasnt untill recently that I realized what amazing little animals these are. I adopted one from the MSPCA for my dog (I know it’s wierd but they loved eachother) Since adopting my first pig I have rescued 4 more, after realizing how socially interactive they are. They form bonds, live in packs eat, sleep and play together. They can distinguish person from person. When my first passed away his closest cagemate became severly depressed and aggressive towards myself and the other pigs. I also grieved more than I imagined possible, a guinea pig, a rodent, had become such a part of my family that it destroyed me inside when I lost him. They are interesting, fun little guys, such distinguished personalities, emotions, and yes slightly stinky:) I am a vegetarian so I cannot condone eating any animal but I do see both sides point of view. Anyway, I just had to speak up for my buddies, do some research, educate yourself and then decide where you stand on the matter.

  15. Animal agriculture can never be sustainable and green, let alone compassionate. Instead folks should be growing soy beans, potatoes, and other veggies in their backyards or vacant lots. Replacing beef with smaller animals means eating A LOT more small animals, possibly dozens more per person per year. The “backyard” farmer suddenly needs a factory farm-type facility just to feed his or her family. The added cruelty of breeding, confining, transporting, and slaughtering all these animals is exponential.

    All farmed animal production is worse for the planet than eating a vegan diet: when measuring calories of energy used to produce food calories, soy is 23 times better than chicken and 37 times better than eggs, and corn is 14 times more efficent than chicken and 22 times more efficient than eggs (source-Eshel and Martin, “Diet, Energy and Global Warming” 2005). Also, the Chesapeake Bay and several Southern rivers are grossly polluted from chicken waste.

    Increasing the number of farmed animals this drastically (and number of species eaten) simply increases the potential for disease, both to the animals and to humans.

  16. How I feel has been stated already, so I’ll just add that seeing that picture made me want to throw up and if Matt Miller was trying to lose contributors to The Nature Conservancy with this article, he has definitely been successful with me.

  17. We would focus on the fact that animal agriculture, whether it be guinea pigs, “backyard chickens”, dogs, cats, or ducks, can never be sustainable and green, let alone compassionate. Instead folks should be growing soy beans, potatoes, and other veggies in their backyards or vacant lots. Mr Miller conveniently ignores that replacing beef with smaller animals means eating A LOT more small animals, possibly dozens more per person per year. The “backyard” farmer suddenly needs a factory farm-type facility just to feed his or her family. The added cruelty of breeding, confining, transporting, and slaughtering all these animals is exponential.

    1. Hey, Bill Robinson and al, it looks like you guys are writing from a script. Opposing comments welcome, but let’s try to make them original, at least 😉

  18. Andrea, you missed the part where Erik said eyes “on the front of our faces.” The animals you cited have eyes *on the side of their heads* (maybe debatable on the hippo – I’m not an expert) so that they can instantaneously have a wider field of regard and see the predators coming! Also, Erik made the point clearly that it was hunters who had preserved wilderness. They’re about the only group other than conservationists who are willing to *pay* to keep places wild. The rest of the world would be fine turning it all into a Walmart parking lot or subdivision with McMansions.

  19. Cuy, sounds delicious. Cuy are bred and raised for food. Stupid Europeans took them and bred little pets out of them, which are common now. Can anyone tell me where i can buy a breeding pair of cuy to raise for food? (NOT ordinary ‘guinea pigs’).

    They would be much easier for us than chickens. hard to raise chickens in your townhouse.


    1. I would be interested in knowing if anyone has any information on the history or current activity of raising, processing, or marketing guinea pig meat in the US. Thank you, Dan.

  20. I agree 100% with Mark J. It’s fairly typical of human nature to try to look for a way around a problem by trying to “engineer” a solution. In this case trying to farm smaller animals or the same animals on a different scale or in a different way rather than confronting the underlying truth. As Mark puts it… “the best thing for human and environmental welfare is to eat a plant-based diet.” Absolutely right.

  21. Missing the point, anyone? People eat meat. The ‘ecological’ problem is that there are too many people in the world, and thus too many people wanting meat. If you want to be ‘ethical’, kill yourself and reduce the population pressure on this planet. Switching yourself to a diet of grains is about as healthy as making a cow eat grains. Me, I’m not going to kill myself, being an unethical predator who intends to eat all the meat she can acquire.

    1. I definitely agree, that the biggest world issue is the number of people on the planet. As a consumer of meat or veggies we use immense amounts of resources, and produce the same in waste. Veggies are grown predominately with animal manure and chemicals that pollute the streams, groundwater and oceans. Polluted water kills numerous amounts of animals because they depend on water to survive and can’t filter it like humans can. Many animals live in water and breath in it. So, I think the real answer is a lot more grey than black and white. Weather you eat meat or veggies you are contributing to animal death.
      Also, has anyone actually tried to grow veggies themselves and live solely off of the food they produce? It’s is rediculously hard, even in areas where the weather and resources and lack of pests is ideal. I think it is wrong to judge people in other countries who have relied on eating meat or animal products. I believe there is a balance and often a necessity depending on where you live and what your food sources are. I believe if you have the option to eat vegetarian do so. It is a healthy option and you are not supporting the commercial meat industry. The meat industry has poor health standards and care for the animals people ingest and yes commercial businesses are almost always inhumane. The meat industry feed garbage to the animals like other animal diseased tissue, and nutrient lacking mass produced veggies. I think as a consumer we have to think in a more complex manner and look at our impact by researching where products we consume come from, what they are made with, and what you are actually supporting. Your dollar is your vote and so is your decision to have children or more importantly an excess of them.

  22. I tried cuy for the first time this summer in Ecuador. It was .. interesting .. parts of it were dry and some were greasy at the same time 😛 Kinda crazy .. one of my Ecuadorian friends just ate its crunchy foot like it was nothing .. still recovering from that 🙂

  23. Some of ewe are so pathetic that given the coming calamity caused by over population will likely find yourselves on my dinner plate.

  24. 1. Humans are omnivores. Fact
    2. Many lands are only conducive to grazing, to convert roughage to meat via ruminants. That is sustainable when properly conducted. FACT
    3. Animal husbandry is not cruel or painful, up to the point of slaughter, which when done properly is quick, but is stressful. FACT
    4. You may make your own choice to be vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. Most people don’t care about your choice. FACT
    5. You may not make my choice. Most people do not care about my choice. FACT
    6. Evolution in human foodstuffs willl occur. Changing the U.S. economy quickly would destabilize our nation economically. It will change over time succesfully. Opinion.

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