Why I Eat Alpacas.

Brochettes served at River Hill Ranch & Hill Restaurant’s Alpaca Farm to Table Dinner

I’ve gotten my share of scrunched and turned up noses. I have chuckled at the handful of highly dramatic and/or ignorant comments on my Facebook page (my favorite: “I would rather eat my children!” Yup. No joke. She must have real jackass kids…)

But thankfully most folks have been simply surprised, saying “I didn’t know you could eat alpacas.”

So this blog is for you. Here are all the many reasons why I eat alpacas:

1.       It’s delicious. Just look at that picture. I know your mouth is watering. This wasn’t my number one reason when I started eating it, but it sure is now! With the smooth texture of a tuna steak but an amazing flavor similar to beef only sweeter, the only meat I’ve found comparable is elk. No, alpaca does not have a game flavor. But don’t take my word for it; go ask the chefs and customers at Table Three TenSmithtown SeafoodGameNational ProvisionsMarksbury Farm, and Good Foods Co-op

2.       People have been eating them for centuries. Alpacas have been a domestic livestock species for 6,000 years for meat and fiber. The Incas didn’t have cattle; they had llamas and alpacas. And they have continued to be on menus across Peru, Chile, and Bolivia ever since. (Native Americans didn’t have cattle either…they had bison…we ate most of those…or wastefully left the meat to rot after skinning their hides) Like jerky? Fun fact: the first known jerky was alpaca and llama; it was originally called “charqui.”

3.       It’s healthy. Lean, low in cholesterol, yet high in protein and iron. Only thing that beats it is emu. I’ve had emu; I’ll take the alpaca.

4.       I know what’s in it. I personally keep the health records on these animals. I understand why the meat industry started using antibiotics to the extent that it does, I would just prefer to keep that out of my body. I only give antibiotics when someone is sick. I ensure they get fresh pasture grass in the summer and tested, quality hay in the winter. I only give grain if someone is struggling to keep weight on. I’m not hating on other farmers; I just chose to do things differently.

5.       It’s good for the Earth. Pound for pound, alpacas are 25% more efficient than cattle. That means it takes 25% less land, 25% less food to grow a burger made from alpaca verses beef. Alpacas are also easier on the soil: as lighter animals, they don’t cause soil compaction and their padded feet don’t cut into the soil like hooves do.

6.       It’s good for the alpaca fiber industry. At a certain point, most alpacas’ fiber takes a turn for the brillo pad. So if I only have enough land for 20 alpacas and all they give me is scratchy scarves, what can I do? Send a few on to freezer camp so we can have babies to make ahhh-mazing-alpaca good scarves again.

7.       I can’t afford to have a herd of pets. Given the above scenario, if I kept the 20 brillo pads around, it would get awful expensive. Generally it costs about the same to feed, house, and care for a brillo pad alpaca as an ahhh-mazing one. Except the amazing one will actually make money with the fiber harvest. The most I’m getting out of the brillo pad is a lawn mowing service (which is cool if you have two…not 20).

And as a sidenote here: heritage breed meat animals became endangered because our food system supports max weight production as opposed to max nutrition. Eat endangered to give farmers an incentive to continue to breed heritage breeds.

8.       It’s humane. I have seen alpacas wither away. There’s been a few I’ve tried so hard to keep going, but just couldn’t. Because they are livestock and not pets, I feel much better knowing their lives were full of rolling hills of lush pasture and sunshine as opposed to pain. When touring my processor for the first time, without me asking they proudly informed me their entire facility was built according to Temple Grandin’s specifications. I have an autographed copy of her book I purchased the year before our first meat harvest. I have stayed with those big, beautiful eyes to the very end to make sure they are respected and cared for even in death. It is hard. But it is important to me.

So after reading this you still tell me “It’s just not my thing” after you still haven’t tried it, it’s cool. I’ll just respectfully say “Ok. Are you a vegetarian?”