Key to the Animals
Plants & Animals apparently
stem from a common ancestor, lost in the mists of time, probably
going their separate ways well over a billion years ago. Animals and
fungi went their separate ways later.
Here we present a chart of the edible animals. It follows their
evolutionary descent but for simplicity I include only animal lines that
are used by humans for food. Extinct lines are omitted (you can't eat
those) as are intermediate evolutionary stages that aren't of culinary
interest. All the first level entries were already in existence during
the Cambrian era, about 530 million years ago. Very little is known
about animal evolution in the Precambrian due to a very faint fossil
Who Eats What Animals?
- Cnidaria (Jellyfish, corals, anemones)
- Arthropoda (insects, etc.)
- Insects (Hexapods)
- Spiders & Scorpions (Chelicerates)
- Echinoderms (urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish)
- Molluscs (mollusca)
- Chordata (vertebrates, etc.)
Skates & Rays (chondrichthyes) - cartilaginous fish
- Osteichthyes (bony fishes)
- Ray Finned Fish (Actinopterygii) - all the familiar fish
- Lobe Finned Fish (Sarcopterygii) - Coelacanths still live!
- Synapsids (mammal-like reptiles)
- Marsupials (Possum, Kangaroo)
- Monotrems (Platypus, Echidnas) - egg laying mammals
- Amphibians (Salamanders, Frogs)
Whether it's "right" (or healthy) to eat our fellow critters has been
intensely debated for thousands of years with no resolution. Parrots have
learned to talk (compose and speak meaningful sentences for their own
purposes), less vocal animals have been shown to understand sentences.
Ravens form clubs, use tools and can think out problems. Sociological
studies show we're all pretty similar, so traditional notions of human
exceptionalism and dominion over animals really don't wash.
On the other hand, it's been shown that all animals, including ourselves,
live by eating other living things, and many live exclusively on other
animals, and in some cases animals of intellectual achievement superior to
their own - so it's been pointed out this is the natural order. An order
in which we participate - until something eats us.
So it all boils down to a matter of personal viewpoint, or the strictures
of your religion (which is also a personal viewpoint). I was a vegetarian
for some time (though not a very "ethical" one), and not at other times,
so I'll make no condemnation one way or the other.
- North Americans are predominantly
Christians, a powerful subcult of the Pagans, and have no religious food
prohibitions except for a few small sects that adhere more or less to Jewish
law or promote vegetarianism. Most churches don't even forbid eating people
(though it's rarely done).
By secular law and/or custom, Americans are forbidden to eat dog, cat
and horse. Just about everything else is fair game. These prohibitions have
no logic but are the result of pressure by pet lovers. Pigs are probably
smarter than dogs and cats and way smarter than horses, but are eaten in
quantity by pet lovers because they're not cute and cuddly. The horsey set
has even pressured government to forbid exporting horses to places that do
eat horse, despite the fact that horses, in the wild, kill and eat smaller
animals, and have killed and eaten people.
Of course North America includes vegetarians of every possible stripe,
including a strong contingent of "vegans" who won't eat any animal or use
any animal derived products for anything. Eggs, milk products and honey
are off their menu because they amount to "exploiting animals". Of
course, they have no strictures against exploiting people.
The U.S. is also host to many large and strong immigrant communities and
Native American communities, so an occasional cat, dog or horse does end up
in the stew pot - you just have to be a little careful about who knows.
The U.S. also hosts large contingents of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and
other religious persuasions that follow their own dietary rules.
- Europeans are much like Americans but with some
variations. The French, for instance, do eat horse, though it has declined
in popularity, and I have it on good authority that the Germans ate plenty
of cats during World War II (for cat, use any rabbit recipe, they taste the
Europe, due to past conquest of distant countries and importation of
labor in times of worker shortage (especially Muslim Turks in Germany and
Indians and Pakistanis in England) also has plenty of religious contingents
following their own rules.
Hindus come in many stripes. Many do eat meat, but
most don't eat cow. Cow is clearly not forbidden by the sacred Vedas (which
provide guidance on eating them), but from later political / religious
prohibitions inspired by the Krishna cult, anti-Islam sentiment and economics
(better return on investment from milk than meat).
Pig is not prohibited to Hindus but is rarely eaten due to pure economics
(not enough high quality grains to grow really edible pigs) and due to a
suspicion of the animal possibly picked up from other cultures. Pigs are
eaten in areas influenced by China, and where wild pigs were hunted
(Kodava and Tamil Nadu).
The main meat eaten by Hindus is goat, which British conquerors were
pleased to call "mutton" so it would taste better. In areas of India
influenced by Islam (north), lamb predominates for both Muslims and Hindus.
Hindus who eat meat avoid skin and fat - it is always removed before
Many Hindus are vegetarians of various degrees of purity. On the east
coast they excuse fish and shellfish consumption by defining fish as fruit
(fruit of the sea). On the west coast many won't eat anything that
even suggests meat and go to great effort not to harm insects or even
Brahmans, the highest Hindu cast, are supposed to adhere to the
"Brahman diet" (introduced to Americans by the Hari Krishna folks),
which forbids any meat, onions, garlic, shallots, or mushrooms - but in
Kashmir Brahmans eat meat, but not cow.
- Buddhists are supposed to go
through life "doing no harm", so they are by nature vegetarians. Their
presence in China, Japan, Tibet and Southeast Asia has provided those
area with a good number of excellent vegetarian recipes. Of course, in
Tibet, vegetarianism is often almost impossible, and in Southeast Asia
vegetarianism is the rule only for priests.
Because members of some Buddhist sects live entirely by begging for
food, there is an escape clause. Strict Buddhists may accept meat
provided it was not in any way prepared for them or as a result
of them - in other words, they did no harm. If you invited a strict
Buddhist to dinner, you would be responsible for providing vegetarian
food and no meat would be accepted. If, on the other hand, the Buddhist
showed up completely unexpectedly and meat was what there was, you could
offer it and it may be accepted, or may not.
Of course in the U.S. we have traditional Buddhists of all sects plus any
number of varieties of half baked "Buddhists" who follow any set of rules
they fancy. If they think they're getting off the wheel of Karma that
way they may have to rethink in their next life, but, hey, life's not all
that bad, really.
- Jews have a strict set of dietary guidelines, the
Kosher laws (A3), which are adhered to more or less
strictly depending on the sect of Judaism a person belongs to and personal
viewpoint. Kosher is an anglicized form of Hebrew kasher which means
"fit" or "proper".
Pig is completely forbidden for eating, but the Jews are not pathological
about pig like the Muslims are - you can sell them, use leather made from
them, just not eat them.
Edible animals must chew a cud and have a cloven hoof: cattle, antelope,
buffalo, bison, deer, eland, gazelle, goat, hart, moose, ox, sheep
and yak. - though certain parts (brain, major nerves, etc.) are forbidden
as well as any blood at all (thus killing and salting (koshering) rules must
be strictly followed.
Forbidden are: camel, dog, dolphin, donkey, horse, pig, porpoise,
rabbit, hyrax, rodents, whale, all reptiles, frogs lizards, snakes,
turtles, toads, all insects (except certain locusts
(A5)) and other invertebrates, and crocodiles (though
now known to not be reptiles but related to birds they still don't
Edible birds must have a projecting claw, a crop and a gizzard the
inner lining of which can be peeled away: chicken, Cornish hen, duck,
dove, goose, pigeon, songbirds and turkey.
Forbidden birds are wild birds and birds of prey: eagle, heron,
ostrich, owl, pelican, stork, swan, vulture and crow.
Edible fish must have both fins and scales that can be removed without
breaking the skin: anchovy, bass, blackfish, bluefish, butterfish, carp,
chub, cod, flounder, fluke, haddock, halibut, herring, mackerel, mahimahi,
mullet, perch, pickerel, pike, pompano, porgy, red snapper, sablefish,
salmon, sardine, shad, smelt, snapper, sole, tilefish, trout, tuna,
weakfish, whitefish and whiting.
Among forbidden fish are: catfish, eel, lamprey, marlin, rays, puffer,
sailfish, shark, sturgeon, swordfish and turbot.
Forbidden seafoods are all shellfish and mollusks, including: clam,
lobster, octopus, oyster, scallop, squid, shrimp and snail (the popularity
of expensive sushi bars among Jewish professionals in Los Angeles and what
they eat there is strictly between them and their rabbi).
Milk products and meat must not be mixed nor eaten at the same meal, and
separate cooking utensils are required for the two.
In general, great care must be taken to insure that no kosher food is
in any way contaminated by or comes in contact with any non-kosher food
or substance, or machinery and utensils that have.
The primary purpose for all these rules was to make Jews so different
from other peoples they could not mingle with them. The rules are so
effective in that regard that the majority of North American Jews have
come to ignore them in part or in whole.
- Muslims follow Islamic food law which is derived
from the Jewish kosher law and is very similar but particularly sticks at
pig in any shape form manner or use. Acceptable foods are called Halal
(lawful), unacceptable are haram (unlawful) and questionable items are
mushbooh (suspected) and should not be consumed
Alcohol and other intoxicants are strictly forbidden - though the
Turks seem to have received a special dispensation on this item - either
that or they're all going straight to Hell with the rest of us.
All halal animals must be properly slaughtered and must not have been
dead before slaughter. No animal that was killed in the name of anyone
other than Allah is acceptable. As you might expect, halal meat is
Chinese (other than the
Buddhists) are really big on pig and chicken. Beef and fish are also
used, and Lamb in the Muslim regions. In the Southeast, they'll stop at
nothing (fried scorpions, anyone? Tarantulas?). Recently, restaurants
there were promoting rat, because they'd already served all the snakes
that had been eating the rats - so plenty of rats.
Chinese saying, "The Cantonese will eat anything with legs except a
table, and anything with wings except an airplane". Actually, this
underestimates the Cantonese - they are perfectly fine with eating things
that have neither legs nor wings. There is now some conflict between
Northern China and Southeast China. The northerners have adopted a
Western attitude towards cats and dogs as pets, while they are still
eating them in the southeast.
Chinese Buddhists are expected to be strictly vegetarian. This is
supposed to extend down through Vietnam, but Thailand and Cambodia
adhere to Indian Buddhism which is more liberal, and most Vietnamese
- Korea is big on beef, fish, and
moderately hot chilis. Pork is also used, and everything is served with
rice and kimchee (pickled cabbage (and/or other vegetables) usually with
red chili, but sometimes not).
- Japan is a land of two major
religions, Shinto, the indigenous religion, and Zen Buddhism, originally
imported from Korea. To my knowledge, Shinto has no restrictions on eating
animals. Zen Buddhism at one time forbade (by command of the Emperor)
eating animals except fish and birds, but in later times Japanese Zen has
de-emphasized vegetarianism, though it is still respected.