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Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:50 pm

The lion sleeps tonight, fitfully

Lawmakers target exotic meat

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Forget arguments over pensions, guns, taxes and health care.

Judging by a quick Google check, the biggest issue facing Illinois lawmakers this session is the scourge of lion meat purveyors, who are now free to ply their trade in the Land of Lincoln.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, would ban the trafficking of lion meat as well as raising of lions for slaughter in Illinois. It is, apparently, the first of its kind in the nation. The bill has passed committee and is awaiting action by the full House. And the story has gone viral, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among others, urging anyone who loves lions to contact legislators.

“The last thing anyone should want to do is glamorize lion meat and increase demand for it,” the ASPCA intones on its website.

Of course, sponsoring legislation that guarantees gigabytes of free publicity for lion steaks and ribs would never – never – increase demand for a meat that you can’t get at Schnuck’s, Shop ’n Save, County Market or most anywhere else owing, perhaps, to lack of demand. Even Czimer’s Game & Seafood, a meat shop near Chicago that is the purported top spot in the state to buy lion meat, is fresh out, according to the shop’s website. The owner isn’t talking to reporters.

But Anshu Pathak is.

Way out in California, Pathak is selling meat from antelopes, bears, bobcats, pythons, camels, iguanas, zebras and, of course, lions, and he sees nothing wrong with it. Pathak’s shop, called Exotic Meat Market, also offers twice-baked potatoes and delicacies in a category dubbed “bizarre foods” – think yak tongues and duck testicles.

Lions might be born free, but they don’t stay that way for long. Just a few years ago, Pathak was selling lion meat for as little as $60 per half-pound, according to news reports. The price has gone up considerably. A single steak weighing between 10 and 14 ounces sells for $199.99, and that’s on sale: The regular price is $249. A shoulder roast sells for $1,999.99, a heart goes for $999.99, tails are on special for $299.99 and a penis would cost $999.99 if there were any left in stock.

Why so much?

“To raise one lion, it takes five years,” Pathak says.  “You want to raise a cow for five years, how much are you going to charge for it?”

Pathak, who started selling exotic meats in 1969, says business is good. He is planning a store in Las Vegas where customers will be able to grill their own meat on the spot.

“I have orders coming from all over the world, but America is the biggest market,” Pathak says. “To be honest with you, I love to eat – that’s how I started. If something is new and it’s legal, I want to try it and I want to sell it.”

Pathak has heard of the anti-lion meat bill pending in the Illinois legislature but professes himself unconcerned.

“To me, it does not matter,” Pathak says. “Basically, I don’t ship too much to Illinois.”

Pathak says that he raises his own lions and none of the flesh he sells is imported. The purveyor of Czimer’s in Illinois, after pleading guilty to selling tiger meat as lion meat 10 years ago – tigers being endangered, any sale of tiger meat is illegal – was sentenced to six months and ordered to pay $116,000 to the Save The Tiger Fund, but Pathak says that won’t happen to him. He promises free samples of his lion meat to any state or federal agency for DNA testing.

Beyond prosecution, there is a certain risk inherent in the lion meat trade. Someone torched Czimer’s in 2003, with the Animal Liberation Front claiming responsibility. Pathak says that he isn’t impressed by threats.

“I have too many people sending me emails, saying ‘I’m going to kill you, blah, blah, blah,’” Pathak says. “Man, just come – open the door, I’m in front of my desk, shoot me. Don’t send emails. I’m not going to be threatened.”

If folks who oppose the lion meat trade really love lions, Pathak says that they should try raising them, as he does.

“Can you give me a guarantee that you will feed them?” he says. “And don’t stop their breeding – keep them breeding so there are more lions in the world.

In case you’re wondering, it does not taste like chicken.

“Lion tastes like lion,” says Pathak, who has dined on such dishes as lion tartare. “I’m telling you the truth.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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