COMMENT: Some Madagascarans (citizens of the island of Madagascar) eat the family’s pet cat out of convenience. It’s a shocking discovery but when I reflect on it, unsurprising. Cat meat is one of my pet subjects. It’s one of my pet hates, too, but I do recognise the cultural differences between countries. Madagascar is a large island off the south-east coast of Africa.
In some countries eating cat meat is completely acceptable and a million cats are consumed by people each year in Asia. In Vietnam it is popular as it is in China. But I’ve never heard of people eating their pet cat out of choice.
A study published in October 2015, “Consumption Of Domestic Cat in Madagascar: Frequency, Purpose and Health Implications” (by Raymond Czaja of Temple University and others) discovered that in Madagascar cat meat was almost never purchased. It was obtained when the owners of cats ate their pet, it was a gift or they hunted feral cats. Sometimes they ate roadkill cats.
In smaller towns cat meat was uniquely eaten after cat-human conflict when, for example, a cat had attacked chickens. In the capital city cat meat was obtained mainly from road-killed animals.
They decided that eating cat meat was an opportunistic means to obtain inexpensive meat. It was not served up for any medicinal purposes as can be the case in China and it was not consumed because it was free or cheap i.e. due to economic hardship. It was just a question of choice.
The statistics are surprising. Over half of the time that they consumed cat meat they consumed the family pet. Twenty-seven percent of the time the cat meat was a gift from friends. And sometimes stray cats were caught and trapped.
Only 3% of people (512 participants) interviewed for the study said that they were disgusted by the idea of eating cat meat. This is a cultural difference to people living in the West. To people like me cat meat is revolting at an emotional level but not a practical one.
It’s just that in the West people don’t want to eat a companion. Cats are often regarded as part of the family so if you eat your cat you are eating a family member. You are engaging in cannibalism as an emotional level.
One issue is that the relationship between the domestic cat and people has evolved. This relationship has evolved at different paces and in different ways in different countries. In the West, as mentioned, the cat is a family member and highly regarded. There is still superstition about the cat in parts of Africa which can lead to abuses. The cat can still be connected to witchcraft and the devil on the African continent.
In Switzerland in some rural villages cat meat is still served for Christmas dinner apparently. In southern China they believe that cat meat has some medicinal qualities (cure for arthritis?) which at least partly accounts for its popularity among some citizens.
There is an issue worth mentioning namely the transmission of disease. Zoonotic diseases are in the news thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a known fact that domestic, stray and feral cats are the primary vectors of the well-known zoonotic disease toxoplasmosis. It’s possible that this disease can be transmitted from a cat killed for consumption to the person eating the cat. This should be factored in to the decision to eat your pet cat.
There are health implications and the public health officials of Madagascar should discourage the consumption of roadkill cats and those that have died of natural causes, so reports Dr Hal Herzog writing in Psychology Today (published on August 6, 2015).