Whole Foods’ Sale of Rabbit Meat Is a Big Pet Peeve to Some

Rabbit meat, whole foods, sustainable meat, Leon Kaye, rabbits, eating rabbits, factory farms
Rabbit meat looks and tastes like chicken.

In case you are unaware, Whole Foods is now selling rabbit meat at a limited number of stores across the United States. As far as more sustainable meat goes, rabbit is one of the better options (along with lamb) — especially considering the oft-quoted statistics suggesting the global meat industry is a larger greenhouse gas emitter than the world’s entire transportation sector. For urban and rural dwellers, rabbit is a far more efficient way to score protein than beef — and they will not wake your neighbors at the crack of dawn. Even the environmental blog Grist, which sniffs at many claims about “sustainability,” has sung the praises of raising rabbit meat.

But the thought of rabbit meat grilled, pan-fried or roasted (goes well with parsnips and baby potatoes) does not make everyone’s mouth water. As the Atlantic recently pointed out, New York’s Union Square Whole Foods has attracted a small but passionate crowd that wants more consumers to boycott the retailer for killing rabbits. One of the more emotional arguments against raising rabbits for meats is that, after all, they are pets.

But there is a problem with that argument: Whole Foods is not killing pets, but is sourcing meat from farms that meet what the company describes as rigorous standards.

The idea of eating rabbit easily conjures a bevy of horrors, from the boiled bunny scene in “Fatal Attraction” to the rabbit-skinning demo in Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me.” As their popularity as household pets surges, the evidence suggests rabbits come in at No. 3 behind cats and dogs (if you dismiss fish and birds), and their popularity in turn has fostered many sites touting the benefits of keeping rabbits in the household.

And thus presents the moral ambiguity that inspires some to boycott Whole Foods while others roll their eyes. Just as the rabbit processed and sold at the Whole Foods meat counter will not be the bunny from the iconic “Monty Python” skit … the Indian beef sold at meat counters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is not the same cow revered by some religious groups in India. The same goes for dog meat found here and there in East Asia. (I don’t necessarily recommend it, as the meat can be tough and stringy.) Appetizing or not, these animals are produced to be eaten, not presented to kids as furry friends.

Unfortunate pet stories, such as one of a Turkish acquaintance of mine whose pet chicken Coco ended up being lunch one day, are indeed distressing to hear. They can trigger a lifelong objection to a certain dish or food. The grey area is whether one’s self-absorbed and self-indulgent views should be forced on others. And to that end, forget the argument about whether we should be eating animals in the first place — that was not the rallying cry of the New Yorkers protesting in Union Square. Are some animals fair game for our plates, while others should not be eaten in any circumstance? And if so, why?

The pull at our collective heartstrings to stop eating rabbits, because some have an emotional bond to their pets, could actually succeed, and Whole Foods should not view this matter as a distraction to be taken lightly. Just look what happened in California in 1998: Despite the fact that the closest most get to a horse is when we watch Season 1 of “Downton Abbey,” Californians voted to pass an initiative banning the sale of horsemeat by almost 60 percent.

So pet appeal could doom the growth of rabbit meat in the U.S., which decades ago was once commonly eaten, and the consumption of which was viewed as patriotic during World War II. The scenarios of new factory farms killing rabbits to satisfy a new demand is highly unlikely, considering they have a low immune system and can die easily when under duress. If anything, Whole Foods’ entry into the market will raise awareness of this alternative, healthier meat — and could also provide future opportunities for small farmers who are currently struggling financially. Considering the same amount of resources can provide six pounds of rabbit meat versus one pound of beef, overcoming bunny guilt is a move retailers like Whole Foods, and their customers, should consider making.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Leon Kaye has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past year and is currently spending some time in Uruguay. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

31 responses

  1. ‘The same goes for dog meat found here and there in East Asia. (I don’t necessarily recommend it, as the meat can be tough and stringy.) Appetizing or not, these animals are produced to be eaten, not presented to kids as furry friends.’

    This is not necessarily entirely accurate. A good number of dogs sold for meat in Asia are stolen from family homes, or taken from the stray population.

    While I personally would not eat rabbit given that I’ve had rabbits as my preferred pet since I was a wee thing, if the meat is from a good source and there is no cruelty (can the meat trade ever be cruelty-free?) involved, then I agree that it is a very sustainable source of protein.

  2. 2 rabbits are slaughters for 6lbs. Of meat (whole foods sells 8-10 week old rabbits that are 2.5-3lbs). So how many animals die to produce the same amount of meat as a cow? Ugh. So many lives. So sad. The health factor: wild rabbits are low in fat not farmed. Pets:no your not killing my pet rabbit but the ones whole foods sells are the same breed as mine. they are known as the golden retriever of the rabbit breeds due to their sweet disposition. How would you feel if your dog or cat was skinned, headless, footless,vacuum sealed and on same for $30. Sustainability: if that is your big concern you would already be a vegan. All animal production is horrible on the environment even rabbits and lamb actually is the worst on environmental impact!

    1. And where do you get this info re rabbits and lamb? And please don’t quote EWG, nor their pseudo-science (their track record on tap water, vaccinations and sunscreen says enough about their credibility).

  3. Rabbits are the number 3 pets in the USA and increasingly in other countries so NO we don’t approve. We happen to have a pet rabbit in our home of the same kind Whole Foods is selling. Also, Whole Foods says it sells cruelty free products.what’s so free of cruelty in selling rabbit meat?

    1. You, a small minority, don’t approve. Many more people approve, and they are eating this delicious meat. In most countries rabbits are FOOD, as they have always been, and even a tasty one. If only it wasn’t for all the bones…

        1. Your comments on here are so childish. Everyone’s opinions count, even people like yours. So why not actually contribute to the discussion instead of being a bigot?

  4. yes, whole foods sourcing rabbit meat from places where ag gag laws are in place. how come? why not be transparent, As consumers we should know. Just like it said 365 brand was “organic” and now we find out it comes from China…

  5. I don’t understand what’s the problem with rabbit meat. It’s no different from eating Beef, Chicken, or Pork. And for fact that rabbits have been raised for there meat since medieval times and hunted long before that.

    1. I like the duality in thinking is okay to eat pigs (WAY more clever than rabbits), cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, fish and so on, and being horrified by the idea of eating rabbit (one of the more common meat animals).

  6. The marketing and PR spin of “humane standards” for rabbit slaughter by “Whole Foods” is unabashed green-washing. In reality, Whole Foods is attempting to jack up demand for a new meat source. Adding rabbit meat dramatically increases the number of animals bred and slaughtered specifically for consumption. A new source of animal torture and slaughter is NOT “sustainable”). Whole Foods will also be directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of companion breed animals and the “leader” in growing this cruel trend.

    When I asked about the disappearing ocean species they were stocking, swordfish and orange roughy, which not even WalMart would stock, whole food
    managers essentially just said “it’s all sustainable” and practically flipped
    me off. Whole Foods management are very vicious and unethical when it comes to profits. You will lie and greenwash and insult your customers. Watch out Whole
    Foods, that kind of attitude will boomerang on you in a bad way. I want you to
    go bankrupt now.

    1. you seem to not understand what the word “customer” means. if you walked up to my meat counter crying about the plight of delicious animals, i’d flip you off and have you escorted out. a customer must have had the intention of buying something before your not buying means anything.

  7. Rabbits are pets – they are not to be in the grocery store. I’ve had them as pets 20 years. They are fragile and expensive to “harvest” and really are not that much different than chicken so I’m told. We do not need to put this on our “list” of things to eat because certain grocery stores wish to become “vogue.” Pathetic – really pathetic. I’ve seen pictures of dog heads in the grocery store from Korea – how would you like to see your pet that way?

  8. The breed of bunny that Whole Foods is selling is a domesticated pet breed that a large number of families have as pets just like cats and dogs. Everyone should be offended at Whole Foods crossing the line in selling pets as food.

Leave a Reply