Eating rabbit in Southern California is dicey. People freak out whenever they see it on the butcher’s table and farmers have a hard time selling them.
“People tend to judge rabbit not on flavor but on its cuteness,” Lefty Ayers, the owner of ReRide Ranch, said. ReRide is located 70 miles north of Los Angeles, near Lake Hughes on the northern edge of the Angeles National Forest. They’ve recently started selling rabbits again and Ayers raises New Zealand, California, and Satin varieties. Demand is going up; rabbits are slowly edging their way into the Los Angeles dining scene. “The market for rabbits is strong with the more exclusive, higher-end restaurants,” Marcie Jimenez of Jimenez Family Farm in Santa Ynez. She has been raising rabbits for food for 30 years. You can find them in sausages at Wurstkuche in the Arts District or if you’re looking for it fried, Southern-style, Ladies Gunboat Society on Sawtelle makes a solid rendition.
They’re sustainable and there are many nutritional benefits. Here’s why we should get over our aversion to eating rabbit:
1) They are easy to raise and they reproduce quickly.
The amount of fodder needed to raise rabbits by comparison to other animals is much lower. “They breed fast and grow fast,” Lefty Ayers, owner of ReRide Ranch said. Ayers feeds his rabbits alfalfa and water. Rabbits have a higher conversion rate than pigs, meaning they gain more weight with less feed. Five pounds of feed gains each rabbit one to two pounds. It’s a much more economical and sustainable process. Less feed means less resources, less water. Add that to their rapid reproduction rates and you get one of the most sustainable meat choices available. In a single year, a farmer with one doe can easily raise around 4 to 6 litters containing up to a dozen rabbits.
2) There are nutritional benefits.
“Rabbits are actually one of the top healthiest meats there is,” Ayers says. Rabbit is relatively low in saturated and unsaturated fat levels, it’s a good source of protein, and has high levels of Vitamin B-12 and selenium. “Rabbit is high in protein very low in fat,” Jimenez adds. It even has fewer calories per pound in comparison to other meats and the meat to bone ratio is much higher than for chicken.
3) It tastes like chicken
Rabbit meat is tender and has a mild gamey flavor. The meat is easy to digest and relatively disease free. It is a white meat with a similar consistency to chicken. Rabbit can effortlessly replace chicken in any recipe and can be used in many different cooking styles. Most commonly, rabbit meat is used in stews and ragu.
They’re not cage-free. “All rabbits for commercial meat production have to be raised off the ground,” Ayers noted. “There is no such thing as pastured rabbits.” The animals are so susceptible to disease, parasites, and heat sickness that they are kept in double stacked cages so that their droppings fall to a lower level.
And they’re awfully cute.
Ayers suggested that changing the name of the meat would shift perspectives: “Pork comes from a pig. Beef comes from a cow. What should rabbit meat be named?”