• The History of Cuy Guinea Pigs - It’s What’s for Dinner

     “We’re all of us guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. Humanity is just a work in progress.”-Tennessee Williams

    When I was a kid, my family adopted this strange little beast called a guinea pig. Wilbur would oink incessantly when we opened the fridge to give him lettuce. He’d stand on his hind legs and knock the cage lid for attention. He’d even run around in the non-fenced backyard and come back to the sliding door when he wanted in.

    Plus, he was cute as beans.

    Pretty crazy for what I thought was essentially a chubby tailless rat. But never in the few special years we had him did I ever think about eating him for dinner.

    The history of guinea pigs

    While many of us are familiar with guinea pigs as being the cute little oinking creatures popular with children in North America, the animal is actually pretty unique.

    Firstly, they don’t exist naturally in the wild. That is, guinea pigs were domesticated and bred for meat for thousands of years. In 2010, some studies were done to trace the origin of the animals.

    Their conclusion?

    Guinea pigs’ ancestors were likely a species of cavies known as C. tschudii, an animal still found across South America in the wild.

    And just in case you think they’re a more recent phenomenon of breeding, researchers think guinea pigs were first domesticated for food by indigenous people in the Andes around 7,000 years ago! There’s even evidence of statues showing ancient people in these areas worshipped them among other animals.

    And then came the Europeans in the 1500s.

    Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers/brutal conquerors started taking guinea pigs back to their countries to trade during this time.

    The animals were an instant hit — although not as food.

    The aristocracy thought these cute little alienesque creatures were amazing, and they quickly become the next “must-have” for anyone with enough money. Even Queen Elizabeth I was known to have a guinea pig as a pet.

    From there, people bred the cute little creatures and they eventually ended up as popular pets across the Western world.

    Why are they called guinea pigs or cavies?

    Maybe you’re more used to guinea pigs being called Ariel or Cookie or Ginger, but sadly, that’s not their common nor scientific name.

    I’m also sure most of you can guess guinea pigs aren’t related to pigs. But oddly enough, they’re not from Guinea in Africa, or Guyana either. In reality, the origin of the name guinea pigs isn’t exactly known for sure.

    There are a few theories of course.

    Some posit the word “guinea” in Europe used to refer to things from far away. That and the trademark oinking noise guinea pigs make might’ve led to the name combination.

    A debunked theory states they’re called guinea because an English gold coin of the same name was supposedly the cost of one guinea pig. Yet, the animals were known from writings dating to 1554, and the coins weren’t created for another century.

    As for being called cavies, the taxonomic name is Cavia porcellus, denoting the genus Cavia and the species of porcellus.

    In South America, the animals are usually called cuy and are still raised for meat to this day! Lastly, there is one breed of large guinea pigs in North America called Cuy Criollo, which stands for giant guinea pig.

    Guinea pigs as food today

    I’m sure it might come to disappoint a few of you, but guinea pigs are still a common dish eaten today in certain parts of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia.

    The reason is threefold. Guinea pigs require far less space to raise, they breed like rabbits, and they (apparently) taste like dark chicken meat — as in, not bad at all.

    In Peru alone, over 65 million guinea pigs are raised and consumed each year. Oink, indeed.

    In fact, the animal is so popular and ingrained in Peru’s history, that a famous painting of The Last Supper in 1753 by artist Marcos Zapata hangs in the Cuzco Cathedral.

    What was for dinner in this version?

    You guessed it — cuy!

    The Last Supper, 1753, by Marcos Zapata with a guinea pig as the main dish
    The Last Supper, 1753, by Marcos Zapata, Public Domain

    My own encounter with guinea pigs as a food

    I never really thought of these animals as being food before, either. That is until one day around five years ago.

    I attended a festival at a sort of hippie commune here in Taiwan and was absolutely delighted to see a large moat surrounding a miniature village and barn full of these fluffy little creatures.

    It was only after settling in and talking to a few of the people that lived there that I realized the horrifying truth — they were raising them to be eaten.

    But after the initial shock, I learned more about the practice and why they eat them. In the end, I settled my own emotions of disgust with a bit of realization.

    This animal in particular has been raised and bred for thousands of years as mainly a food and animal to be praised and thanked for its gifts. The disgust lied with me and how I was raised, and with my experience of having Wilbur all those years ago.

    I wasn’t in a position to judge these people for how they viewed an animal, and with that feeling, I chose to learn more about the practice and why it was so.

    Pictures of cuy or guinea pig dishes

    And in case you’re curious, here are a few pictures of famous dishes using guinea pig as the main ingredient.

    User discretion is advised if you’re squeamish about the idea of eating guinea pigs.

    A cuy or guinea pig dish in Ecuador:

    A dish of cuy or guinea pig in Ecuador
    Photo by J. Miers, CC BY-SA 3.0

    A Peruvian dish with cuy or guinea pig:

    A Peruvian dish of cuy with vegetables
    Photo by CEllen, CC BY-SA 4.0

    Another guinea pig dish in Peru:

    A Peru dish of fried cuy
    Photo by Jorge Gobbi, CC BY 2.0

    Preparing a roast guinea pig or cuy in Ecuador:

    A cuy guinea pig being prepared for barbeque
    Photo by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0

    I hope that wasn’t too disturbing to see for those of you used to guinea pigs being purely pets.

    And just in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t eat any of the guinea pigs — it simply wasn’t on the menu that day.

    J.J. Pryor

    Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

  • The Hilarious Last Words of 10 Famous People from History

    A skeleton smiling in the woods                             Photo by Chris J Mitchell from Pexels
    We sat there philosophizing and passing around a bong full of medicine. These types of hangouts can often lead to some interesting discussions.

    This occasion was no different.

    If your plane was crashing, what would you do?” someone asked out of the blue (haze of medicine).

    Naturopathic practitioner #1: “Call my parents.

    Medicinal enthusiast #2: “Pray.”

    The person taking up a few minutes of your time today: “Tell a joke.” My friends looked confused at my answer. “WTF does that mean, JJ?”

    Speaking through the haze, all I could mutter was something about not wanting my last act in the universe to be anything but positive.

    Or to quote an updated Shakespearean proverb of our time, “YOLO, brolo.”

    You only live once. And once it’s over — we’re done.

    But our light continues shining into the netherverse. Our last act would thus be our last imprint on the history of, well, everything.

    So I’d rather smile than scream or pray or try to connect through a phone I’ve never gotten to connect on an airplane. One last moment of bliss amidst the chaos that is our life. And if it were a joke with a positive connotation — all the better.

    Of course, my words didn’t come out like this. I’m not always so good at explaining my odd way of thinking when pressed for time. (Nor while inhaling blue haze at a bong mitzvah.)

    Most of my friends didn’t quite understand my point, but one had an all-knowing smile slowly creep over his face: “No, I get it, man.

    I may not have had time to think through what I wanted to say with my mouth typing that night, but the following men and women had months or even years to ponder what their last light on the world would be.

    And they chose to have fun with it.

    I get that too, man.

    I hope you enjoy this list of funny famous last words.

    “Good. A woman who can fart is not dead.”

    These are the suspected last words of Louise-Marie-Thérèse de Saint Maurice…right after passing some audible gas.

    She was a victim* of the French revolution.

    A friend of Marie Antoinette and the heiress to the largest fortune in France at the time.

    *Or justly prosecuted — depending on your perspective of $600 stimulus checks after not being able to afford rent for 9 months.

    “How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French fries.”

    Who says murderers can’t have a sense of humor?

    James French killed a hitchhiker in cold blood in 1958. He was granted leniency from execution and given a life sentence.

    Even though he requested the chair several times, the criminal justice system didn’t want to listen.

    So, he murdered his cellmate after treating him to a steak breakfast as a form of last meal. The judges changed their mind and sent him to the chair to fry later on.

    “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.”

    Richard Feynman is often ranked as one of history’s top physicists.

    His work on the atomic bomb, several important quantum physics theorems, and winning a Nobel Prize certainly attest to that.

    He was also fond of pranks, jokes, and general mischief — a practice he kept up until his very last words.

    “And now for a final word from our sponsor.”

    Charles Gussman was an early creator of soap operas and a prolific radio announcer.

    And he always had a knack for seeing the lighter side of things.

    On his deathbed in his last moments, he took off his oxygen mask to say the above line before his dying light set in.

    “I done told you my last request… a bulletproof vest.”

    Another convicted murderer with a devilish sense of humor, perhaps.

    James W. Rodgers was the last person in the US executed by firing squad until the Supreme Court later reinstated the death penalty in 1974.

    When offered a coat before shortly before his execution, he replied:

    “Don’t worry, I’ll be where it’s warm soon.”

    “I’m tired of being the funniest person in the room.”

    Del Close is a legend in improv circles. He was the unofficial coach and mentor of dozens of famous modern-day comedians during a long stint at SNL in its early days.

    That’s not an overstatement.

    He trained the likes of:

    Dan Aykroyd, James + John Belushi, John Candy, Stephen Colbert, Andy Dick, Chris Farley, Jon Favreau, Tina Fey, Adam McKay, Susan Messing, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Amy Poehler, Harold Ramis, and Andy Richter.

    If you’re interested, he co-authored a book on the intricacies of how to be funny in improvisation.

    “Now is no time to make new enemies.”

    François-Marie Arouet was a prolific French author of over 2,000 books and short pieces during his lifetime. He was also famous for his stance against organized religion and for the separation of church and state.

    You probably know him better as Voltaire, his nom-de-plume.

    When prodded by a priest to renounce Satan on his death bed, he said the above line.

    The church refused to bury him.

    Some of his close friends instead had him secretly buried at a church in another town where the priest was a personal connection.

    “I desire to go to Hell and not to Heaven. In the former, I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings, and princes. While in the latter are only beggars, monks and apostles.”

    The inspiration for fanatical dictators all over the world, Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher and diplomat from Florence.

    His most famous piece is thought by a few historians to be satirical, but most people believe The Prince was meant as a guide for new royalty.

    It advocated rulers to not worry about being nefarious as long as the outcome was beneficial to the ruled. The ends justified the means.

    I have a feeling most autocratic leaders chose to ignore the latter half of that intention.

    Either way, he had a love for comedy and wrote several plays throughout his life to bring the joy of laughter to people around Europe.

    “You have me well done on one side, turn me over and eat!”

    The patron saint of comedians said something similar to this while being slowly executed overtop a roasting fire for his religious beliefs.

    Here’s a brief idea of what happened to St. Lawrence in his last moments:

    The executioners therefore stripped him, laid him out on the iron grill, piled burning coals under it, and pressed heated iron pitchforks upon his body. And with a cheerful countenance [Lawrence] said to [the Roman official]: ‘Look, wretch, you have me well done on one side, turn me over and eat!’”

    Witty to the end.

    “This wallpaper is dreadful. One of us will have to go.”

    The legendary Oscar Wilde, author, poet, and playwright, was thought to have said this as his final phrase in life.

    Known for his sharp wit, flamboyant clothing, and a knack for interior decoration — these last words would certainly suit him if true.

    Some of the people in the above list were not good human beings, but I can appreciate a little light even in the dark.

    Having the strength and conviction to keep your sense of humor until the very end is certainly a quality I admire in a person.

    I hope my own last words will be witty enough to be written down someday.

    If you have the chance to choose, what will yours be?

    J.J. Pryor

    Head over here for more of my shenanigans.

  • The True History of the MacArthur Genius Grant

    An old black and white insurance advertisment

                         Photo Credit: “The family friend,” insurance advertisement, Library of Congress, CC

    “I figured out how to make the money. You fellows will have to figure out how to spend it.”

    With every fall comes auburn leaves, overpriced pumpkin lattes, and palpable excitement over an obscure merit-based lottery only a few can ever hope to achieve.

    That time of year where The MacArthur Fellows Program doles out their annual allotment of $625,000 to those “who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.”

    Among the most famous recipients of the “genius grant” are civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, and choreographer Twyla Tharp.

    A truly amazing achievement. A time for celebration of exceptionalism in unadulterated charity. A possible day of recognition in the future for the ingenious invention of the peanut butter tuna sandwich.

    But the reason to create the benevolent $7.5 billion private foundation in the first place is almost equally malevolent.

    The Founding Father

    The foundation was founded (yes, me write good words) by none other than John D. MacArthur. Born in 1897 in relative poverty, John went on to pursue education to the highest aspirational levels of the modern-day conservative movement.

    He dropped out in the eighth grade.

    Of note, the Basic Ethics and Morals 101 was likely a class in grade 9.

    John’s father was a Baptist preacher. His brother won an Academy Award as a screenwriter. His sister-in-law was the famous actress Helen Hayes. Another brother owned a small insurance company.

    John went into sales.

    He tried out a few different jobs over the early years, but one niche kept dragging his interest back to the desk. Selling insurance.

    He got a taste of insurance early on working with his brother. People got a taste of John’s ethics later on when he left his first wife and two children to marry his hot secretary.

    Now with a bit of cash — her family was somewhat wealthy — they went and bought a struggling small life insurance company called Banker’s Life and Casualty, running the company alongside his new investor-with-benefits.

    Too Poor to Insure?

    One century ago, most life insurance was only affordable to the wealthy class. John set out to change that by offering industry-breaking $1 policies and heavily advertising them in local newspapers around the country.

    He also took the innovative step of mailing out his offer to thousands of homes in a flyer, something uncommon at the time. It may or may not be a coincidence Spam was invented around then, too.

    Regardless of relation to delicious canned goods, it seemed John had a decent flair for marketing. But alas, he really should’ve attended that grade nine ethics class.

    A delicious looking plate of Spam in front of leaves
    Photo Credit: Neil Motteram on Wikimedia Commons, CC2.0

    Business Was Booming

    Sales exploded but costs didn’t. A sure recipe for success if there ever was one. Customers around the U.S. could now afford insurance, regardless of income level.

    Marketing accolades rolled in. Business groups praised his new-age jazzy style of doing insurance. 14 state insurance departments even gave him a call to chat.

    It turns out, Johnny boy had a few unwritten policies most customers were unaware of:

    Policy #1: His company frequently made “mistakes” in the addresses of insurance payout checks. The exact same houses with correctly written addresses for the initial advertisements (spam).

    Policy #2: It was standard practice to discard claims — perhaps even automatically — and instead only helped customers if they repeatedly chased them.

    Denying people their legally due payments in their greatest time of need?

    “No problem!” — John, Probably.

    Yet another strike in the long list of massive companies who made their fortunes off of scamming hard-working Americans out of their money. In this case, people likely went bankrupt, lost their homes, livelihoods, and more.

    Hurray for bootstraps!

    It’s Never Too Late to Change

    But don’t worry my young leftist friends, he changed his ways. His company received countless accolades in the 1940s for being one of the only large employers in the country to employ hundreds of older and handicapped workers.

    Such a drastic society-benefiting work policy that pre-dated many workers’ rights legislations? By god, this man was a visionary! So, of course, the press praised him. You would praise him. I would praise him. Who wouldn’t?

    John received so much positive press about the employment policy he self-financed a documentary to show how great his idea (he) was.

    “America’s Untapped Assets” was shown frequently on TV as a public service and eventually resulted in John getting a special commendation from the President’s Committee!

    The crux?

    “(The) basement ceilings were unusually low. … Bankers was still able to make this usable space, however, by hiring dwarfs as custodians.”

    It turns out Bankers Life’s office building had a lot of nearly unusable space in its cramped basement. That’s not a problem if you’re named John and hire “dwarves” and wheelchair-bound employees to work in those claustrophobic possibly dangerous quarters.

    I’m sure his Employee Wanted Ads said something along the lines of “You’ll fit right in!” in the brazen version of political correctness of the time.

    Scam One, Scam ’Em All

    At one point, his second wife left him after discovering a few minor details of the man she married:

    • They were never legally married 20 years earlier.
    • She wasn’t legally entitled to any part of this new massive life insurance industry.
    • He had attempted to secretly seize ownership of his wife’s stock.
    • He frequently enjoyed groping unwilling female employees.

    Fortunately, she eventually came to her senses and reunited with him. Because — money? They worked out their differences and put her legally on the books for everything.

    All’s Well That Ends Well. For Billionaires.

    Years later when it came time to retire, John had another problem. He was one of only two billionaires in all of the US! Wait, that was society’s problem, not his.

    Phew, I’m sure glad we solved that one and don’t have 724 of them now.

    His real problem?

    He didn’t want his left-leaning kids wasting his hard-won fortune. And since he didn’t want to leave his wealth to them, that meant the government would get its dirty dirty paws on his life-denying money and business.

    His will “was a disaster from a tax and estate planning perspective…The federal government would take most of it in taxes.”

    That’s a big no-no in billionaires books if you haven’t been paying attention.

    Benevolence at its Finest

    What do you do if you’re one of the richest people in the world and don’t want to pay taxes?

    Start a charity! A strong tradition that continues to this day.

    He set up the MacArthur Fellows Program with the mission to avoid taxes, ensuring his fortune would keep on benefitting absolutely no one. He filled it with a bevy of conservatives; radio commentator Paul Harvey, two Banker’s Life executives, and former Nixon administration Treasury Secretary William Simon.

    He also plopped his son on the board, J. Roderick MacArthur, having reconciled their relationship in his older years.

    His staunchly liberal son.

    The MacArthur Foundation

    John had a simple message to the board members:

    “I figured out how to make the money. You fellows will have to figure out how to spend it.”

    And they did.

    They promptly started distributing the money to all of their favorite heavily conservative causes of the time. Presumably anything related to prolonging the suffering of 90% of Americans. And guns for babies.

    But his son had his own thoughts on the organization:

    “The idea behind the foundation was as a tax dodge that he [his father] thought would allow his business executives to run his company forever. He clearly didn’t understand the tax laws.”

    The next few years involved Roderick trying to wrest control over the foundation from his uber-conservative counterparts.

    • He expanded the board to 13 from 6 and included members from academia, science, and government in 1979
    • He ardently opposed any funds going to purely conservative political causes and battled Nixon’s Treasury Secretary until the conservative resigned in disgust
    • In 1984, Roderick filed suit against several of the board members who continued spouting conservative causes and were profiting from the donations, eventually dropping the suit a month before his death from cancer

    Fast Forward

    While Roderick died before seeing most of his dreams for the foundation come to fruition, his actions had a long-lasting effect on the organization.

    They implemented many of his changes in the years after his death. General observers now feel the “genius grant” is rationed out to left-leaning causes.

    They just might be right. Its current mission involves funding for several broad causes:

    • Climate change solutions
    • Prison and justice system reform
    • Disease research
    • Decreasing nuclear risk
    • Supporting nonprofit journalism

    I couldn’t create a more anti-MAGA list of goals if I was paid to by Hillary.

    The MacArthur Foundation is now in the top 15 of the wealthiest charities in America. It’s given away more than $7 billion in grants since its first donation in 1978. It’s one of the world’s leading contributors to funding liberal causes.

    And yet, it was founded on the greedy notion of dodging tax and perpetuating a giant organization built on defrauding poor Americans who just wanted to help their families.

    And that’s how a massive insurance fraud turned out to be great for society in the end.

    If that isn’t irony at its finest, I don’t know what is.