By Jamie Balke Explore Big Sky Columnist

The other day I was outside checking the mail when I heard boisterous
caterwauling from inside my apartment.
Among my boyfriend Aaron’s many excellent qualities is a propensity
to occasionally break into song. When I asked what might be going on,
he told me “nothing.” When I pursued my line of questioning, he
explained he was singing to my pet guinea pig Joey.
“I was singing about how I plan on eating him,” he clarified.
Threatening to eat Joey is a favorite pastime for both Aaron and my
brother, especially when I’m going out of town and ask one of them to
pet sit. They like to remind me that guinea pigs are considered a
delicacy in parts of South America, and that Joey appears as though he
would be tender. Sometimes they qualify that only in a survival
situation would Joey need to watch his back. Sometimes they ponder
marinades.
This begs the interesting question of where one draws the line between
animal companion and dinner. As a vegetarian, this is dangerous
territory for me, and I do so at the risk of being labeled a seditious
hippie, especially in Montana where I once saw a poster at the County
Fair that outlined the parts of a “beef animal.”
Although I don’t eat meat, I happily prepare it for friends and family
who do. That being said, in a sleep-deprived state, I have also been
known to emphatically gesture at cows from a car, yelling things like,
“Run! They’re going to eat you!”
A Google search of the question, “Do people still eat guinea pigs?”
yielded a fascinating piece by Alastair Bland on NPR’s website entitled
“From Pets To Plates: Why More People Are Eating Guinea Pigs.” It’s
about how there seems to be a trend toward increased guinea pig
consumption in the U.S., and the environmental benefits of eating
guinea pigs versus other livestock.
The story featured two pictures: one of guinea pigs on a farm, and the
second of grilled guinea pigs. The article made reference to the
purported tastiness of their “fingery little hands.” I advised Joey to avert his eyes, although I could not take mine off the mix of
disconcerting and hilarious posted responses to the article.
Ethical, economical and environmental considerations aside, I find it
interesting to think about animals that wind up on the dinner table
versus those that are doted upon as beloved pets in our culture. The
boyfriend also seems to have this topic on his mind, and in addition to
his strange serenade for my pet pig, he recently mused about why we
don’t eat horses. I suspect he likes to illicit a reaction from me that
involves frantic arm waving.
For me, the line between pet and food is a non-issue as a vegetarian,
but for my various scheming friends and family, I draw the line at Joey.
Jamie Balke believes she should probably look for a different pet sitter
the next time she goes out of town.