Meet The Man Who Raises And Sells Exotic Animal Meat, From Alpaca To Zebra
Anshu Pathak owns Exotic Meat Market in Perris, California, which sells a roster of exotic meats that reads more like a zoo tenant list than a menu: there's alligator, alpaca, antelope, armadillo, bear, beaver, bison, bobcat, coyote, camel, suck, emu, elk, reindeer, rattlesnake, and raccoon meat on offer at his store, as well as more than 100 different types of sausages made with more exotic meat blends.
The self-proclaimed meat enthusiast boasts that he carries everything from "A to Zebra" in his shop. Taking his passion a step further, he uses his nearby 13-acre farm to raise his own animals for food. Pathak also imports exotic meats from all over the world to his adventurous costumers. For example, his lion steaks come from farms in the Midwest (he said in 2011 that until he started selling meat, lions were being slaughtered only for their fur) and many of his various cuts of exotic meats are from a farm in Vietnam. Pathak's is no stranger to controversy. In 2011, a restaurant in Arizona drummed up excitement by advertising they would be selling lion meat tacos. The taco eatery was thrust into national spotlight with the unconventional offering and claimed that they were buying Pathak's lion meat for the tacos—a claim that Pathak vehemently denies.
Each time lion meat pops up at an eatery, some are outraged at the thought of eating a zoo animal, others worry about whether it could increase demand for wild lion populations and foodies get excited. Gimmick aside, the sale and consumption of captive-raised lion meat is totally legal in the United States. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, game meat, such as lion, can be sold as long as the animal from which it is derived is not on the endangered species list. Some conservationists would like to see lion there, and one Illinois politician even tried to ban lion from menus. Foodies who are interested in the meat find it won't come cheap: a lion porterhouse steak will set you back $299 right now.
Pathak's shop is subject to a lot of scrutiny from animal lovers, vegetarians, and skittish eaters alike. He invited LAist to tour his farm to sample some of his exotic meats. He handed us plates of mystery meats without any names so we would have no preconceived judgement about the taste of beaver, lion, yak, beaver, bison, water buffalo, llama and iguana meats. Anshu says that the meats all taste unique, but we couldn't help compare the exotic animal flavors to more familiar meats. And no, they didn't all taste like chicken. Lion meat was the best tasting of the bunch. The meat was a bit tough with a mild taste—like a cross between beef and chicken. The second best tasting meat was the beaver, which was fatty with a mild taste—almost like a pot roast. Yak meat was very tender and tasted like beef with lots of fat. Llama meat was sweet and tasted like a cross between lamb and beef. Bison meat is very lean, making it very easy to overcook; the meat itself tasted like a lighter version of ground beef. Iguana meat tasted like a light chicken meat; bison meat tasted like a sweet beef; and water buffalo was tender and very beefy. After the tasting, we spoke with Pathak about how he got into this unusual business.
LAist: Where did your love and obsession with exotic meats begin?
I was born in India where I basically ate everything around. When I was a kid, I would shoot a dove and eat it on the spot. I was born wild, raised wild, and raised to eat raw. I can go with my fingers and take out what to eat from the carcass. I don’t need a knife. I know which parts to take out.
How did you get into the business?
I started selling beef in the 1980s in America. I started with very low-end meat and eventually learned about the different cuts of meat and the aging process. Now, my business has expanded nationwide. I have clients from all over the world that buy my exotic meats. I deliver everything from exotic sausages to zebra.
Tell us about how your process differs from others in the meat packing and selling industry.
The meat business is an interesting business. Once an animal is skinned you don’t know what meat it is. I always have problems with slaughterhouses and processing plants. When you go to the plant, if you are not here, they can put pork fat to add weight or water. My animals are slaughtered at the same slaughterhouses cattle are slaughtered at. The closest one to me is in Fontana.
I've caught people many times, so now I physically stand there as they do it. When I kill a reindeer, I take a live picture when we harvest the animals at the USDA plant with the inspector next to it so people know the meat is the same one and upload it to our Facebook page so that there's no doubt. I make sure my buyers know exactly what they are getting. I am there throughout the whole process to make sure everything goes according to plan.
Tell me about your farm.
I love my animals. I have llamas, alpacas, ostriches, emus, wild turkeys, lambs, goats, peacocks, to name a few. I raise them myself for food. I do tours once a week to show people my farm and the love I have for my animals. I cook for my visitors and have them try meats they would never dream of trying in hopes of having them become more open minded to exotic meats. Have you ever had fresh goat milk from the teats of a goat? I do that on my farm. It's the best, richest milk you'll try. It's all about the circle of life and embracing the animals.
Like many farmers, you love your animals yet you slaughter them for food. Can you elaborate on this?
I've learned to detach myself from all that. I'm able to control my feelings. A pet is a pet. It's not to say that I don't love my animals because I most certainly do, but I know their fate from day one. It's hard. I know every single one of my animals, their name, their habits.
Who are your clients?
Everyone is my clientele. People love to show off what they are eating. I can tell right away on their face if they are truly enjoying my meat. I have clients from Venezuela and all over the world that fly to me via private jets just to pick up exotic meats and go home.
Do you find that your international clients are more open-minded towards different types of exotic meats?
I do think that my international clients are changing the way that Americans are eating. People from the Middle East, Asia, all migrate to California. We are a melting pot of cultures and that openness trickles down to eating and purchasing exotic meats.
Do you think the American palate is becoming more open minded to exotic meats?
In the last few years, there's been a lot more offal, gamey meats popping up on menus so that has lead to a spike in adventurous eaters. TV has also helped to normalize these meats. Americans are flying internationally and becoming more open-minded.
What exotic meat would you recommend to a first timer to try?
I think it's best to start with alpaca. My alpacas are grass-fed and the meat tastes almost sweet. Alpaca meat is not only rich in proteins, but also low in fat, and has the lowest level of cholesterol of any meat. Or maybe a llama... From there, you could work your way through the camel family.
Have you ever been threatened by animal activists?
I get emails, phone calls, and nasty messages online everyday. Of course, I've been doing this for quite some time. I've had police and helicopters that show up at my business because they said I am doing something illegal. After they search everything, they see that everything I do is legal and by the books, so that no longer happens. I have all the necessary federal and import permits. I get threats all the time, but I've learned to ignore them. I am more than happy to talk and educate others on exotic meats. I give tours of my farm so people will be more open-minded and want to learn more.
What types of meat have you not tried yet and would like to? Are there any meats you feel are off limits?
I'd love to try tiger, rhino, whale, or horse. I don't feel as though any meats are off limits. It's the circle of life.
Any future plans for your business?
I have plans to open my own meat processing plant in San Bernardino in the next couple of months. I would also love to open an exotic meats restaurant in the future.
What do you have to say to people who vehemently disagree with your lifestyle and hobby of eating exotic meats?
All the meats I sell are 100% legal. I realize that everyone is not like me. We don't think the same. We have different philosophies, but I respect them. I'd say come to my farm and keep an open mind. I love, respect, and honor my animals. I want everyone to come to my farm and learn more. I love talking to people and educating them. I'm not here to convince people that my way is the better way. I just want to show that there's another way of eating out there.