top Italian food writer has been suspended indefinitely from the country’s version of the television programme Ready Steady Cook for recommending stewed cat to viewers as a “succulent dish”.
RAI, the public broadcasting network, said that it had dropped Beppe Bigazzi, 77, for offering the recipe on La Prova del Cuoco, which is broadcast at midday on the main channel. Its switchboard was inundated with complaints from viewers and animal rights groups. Bigazzi said that casserole of cat was a famous dish in his home region of Valdarno, Tuscany.
“I’ve eaten it myself and it’s a lot better than many other animals,” he told viewers. “Better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon.” He said that for optimum flavour the meat should be “soaked in spring water for three days” before being stewed.
Elisa Isoardi, the programme’s presenter — who has a cat called Othello — tried to steer Bigazzi off the subject. Reports said that during the commercial break she and the show’s producers tried to persuade him to apologise to viewers but he refused.Carla Rocchi, the head of ENPA, the Italian society for the protection of animals, said that killing cats was illegal. Francesca Martini, the Deputy Health Minister, said it was “absolutely unheard of for a public service broadcaster to tell people how delicious cats are to eat”. She called for the producers to be investigated for criminal offences involving incitement to mistreat animals.
Bigazzi, a consumer affairs journalist and author of Cooking with Common Sense, has been one of the stars of La Prova del Cuoco for the past ten years. He is noted for his exuberant style and previously caused uproar by boiling lobsters live on the show. Yesterday he said that he had only been joking about the recipe, and he had been misunderstood.
He added: “Mind you, I wasn’t joking all that much. In the 1930s and 1940s, when I was a boy, people certainly did eat cat
in the countryside around Arezzo.” Food historians said that Italians in cities such as Vicenza devised cat recipes in times of economic hardship. Inhabitants of Vicenza are still nicknamed magnagati (cat eaters), and in some butchers’ shops rabbits are sold with their heads to assure buyers that they are not cats.
From pet to pot
• In his 1529 treatise on cookery, Ruperto de Nola recommended spit-roasting cat basted with garlic and olive oil. He wrote: “Take the garlic with oil mixed with good broth so that it is coarse, and pour it over the cat and you can eat it for it is a good dish”
• The Spanish expression pasar gato por liebre derives from the practice of hunters trying to sell skinned cats as hares. When butchered, the animals are supposed to look almost identical
• In 2007 Australians at a cooking contest in Alice Springs sought to curb the feral cat population by using them in a dish. One judge found the cat casserole so tough that she had to spit it out
• Last month legal experts in China responded to pressure from the country’s middle class and proposed a ban on eating cat and dog meat. Both are traditional Chinese dishes but if the law is passed people caught eating cats could face 15 days in prison