Rabbit for dinner? The thought either delights or disgusts. From the Washington Post:
Chefs love rabbit. Some diners, especially the 2.3 million Americans who keep rabbits as pets, don't. And therein lies a potential for growing controversy. "In Europe, you eat rabbit everywhere. In America, it has been an elite meat," says Bob D. Whitman, a rabbit breeder . . . . "A lot of Americans have Easter Bunny syndrome." . . .
Those for and against rabbits-for-dinner divide neatly into two camps, and they all call themselves rabbit lovers. On one side are chefs and omnivores who see rabbit as a flavorful, healthful and interesting alternative to the omnipresent chicken. "It's a great option because it's lean, but when it's braised it's really tender," says chef Cathal Armstrong . . . .
Among meats, rabbit is a healthful choice. Agriculture Department statistics show that rabbit meat is lower in saturated fat than beef and pork and slightly lower in cholesterol than chicken. The breeds used for meat (commonly California, New Zealand or a cross of the two) are almost twice the size of typical pet rabbits. . . .
Equally passionate are those who prefer to keep rabbit off the plate. Based on The Post's reader mail, an admittedly unscientific sampling, it looks as if rabbit has replaced veal as the most offensive meat. A small photo of fried rabbit legs in a review of Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City prompted a deluge of letters last year . . . . "Ethically, there is no difference between rabbits and other meats, but psychologically there is," [said Gary Loewenthal, a vegan who keeps a pet rabbit]. He added that he boycotts any restaurant that serves rabbit.
More recently, Tina Klugman of Overland Park, Kan., wrote in to request that newspaper critics be forbidden to write about rabbit dishes. Reached by e-mail, the 30-year-old Klugman, who says she is not a vegetarian or "any kind of animal rights activist," said she sees rabbits as companion animals, not food: "I do think it's disgusting to eat bunny, especially after learning about their personalities. They are super-intelligent animals."
In particular, Klugman is bothered by the fact that the USDA classifies rabbits as poultry. As such, they are not subject to the rules of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which is designed to protect farm animals from unnecessary suffering. According to the Humane Society of the United States, most rabbit slaughters do not take place in federally inspected plants. "There is virtually no regulation for rabbits to prevent the worst abuses," says Erin Williams, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society's campaign against factory farming. . . .
"It's not the same as a pet bunny," [says chef Cathal Armstrong]. "You'll get hate mail. People get freaked out that we're serving Thumper."