Animal rights activists—and kitty lovers everywhere—are expressing their outrage at the Gastronomical Festival of the Cat, also known as the Massacre of the Moggies, in the town of Canete, Peru, south of Lima. Held in honor of Saint Ifigenia, a Christian saint, the festival entails the consumption of hundreds of cats bred exclusively for the occasion.
To put this into some perspective, in some sectors of Peruvian culture, cat meat is thought to cure and prevent bronchial disease as well as act as an aphrodisiac. Go figure. Far be it from me to promote cultural relativism carte blanche, but I admit to having my doubts whether there wouldn’t be a market for selling first-born children in this country if it was thought to enhance our love lives. Everyone across this great big world of ours, absolutely irrespective of country or culture, wants to be healthy, and yes, good in bed. What gets you there is where the difference lies—not to mention what kind of animal rests on your plate versus on your lap.
Which brings me to my own recent personal experience. I visited Peru a little more than a month ago and noticed, among other things, a distinct dissonance with American culture in relation to pets. Yes, Peruvians have dogs as pets; you see them everywhere, mostly because they’re running around willy nilly, unleashed, free as birds, through narrow winding streets and, yes, frenetic traffic as well. There’s an element of trust (and perhaps carelessness) at work here that I haven’t seen in the U.S., trust in the dog to come home when he’s had enough fun, and trust in the wider community to look after him. At the same time as Sparky is prowling the streets quite independently, there’s not a llama or alpaca (and there are many) in sight without a closely guarded leash more than 5 inches from a protective human. From what I could see, the llama and alpaca are at the very top of the pet hierarchy. And yet, like guinea pigs, who also commonly serve as pets, they double as dinner for special occasions and appear on most restaurant menus.
Peruvians, it seems to me, are more comfortable than we are with the duality of animals’ roles in society as both pets and lunchmeat. We’re more conflicted, though perhaps understandably so. It’s Fifi to come home to, but nameless, pristinely packaged crab or cow for dinner.
However culturally sensitive I strive to be, I am an American, and consequently do believe in debate. So I think our discomfort with eating cats is probably healthy and that the debate it sparks is equally so. Let’s just not assume that Peruvians don’t love their animals as much as we do. I saw firsthand that there’s more than enough love, even while there’s less of almost everything else than I have the privilege—and responsibility—of seeing here.