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Was an Atlanta Chinese Restaurant Closed for Serving Rats, Mice, Kittens, Puppies, etc.?

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Analysis: First, a word about the foregoing pictures. Yes, those are real rodents, frozen and shrink-wrapped for use as food — reptile food. Owners of pet snakes can order them online for home delivery. Needless to say, packaged rodents are neither an economical substitute for ordinary meat products nor USDA-approved for human consumption.

Second, while it's a fact that there are places in China where you can dine on anything imaginable, from dogs to rats to civet cats, the belief that such items are illicitly cooked and served in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and other western countries is an urban legend, and a very old one at that, dating back 150 years by some estimates.

As the legend is traditionally told, some Asian restaurateurs supposedly cut food costs by serving dishes made from kidnapped pets and calling the featured meat "chicken" or "rabbit." A particularly relevant version cited by folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand in The Mexican Pet (W.W. Norton, 1986) refers to "bodies of small animals found in the Asians' freezers by police investigators" in Fairfax, Virginia — an allegation which proved untrue when investigated by a local journalist.

With regard to the present accusations, I searched the archives of every major news outlet in Atlanta, Georgia (going back six months just to be sure), and found — to no one's surprise, I hope — not a single mention of a Chinese restaurant shut down in late 2004 or early 2005 (or since) for serving rats, kittens, puppies or any other illegal "food items."

2006 update: Demonstrating that truth can be at least as strange as fiction, one year after this email began circulating, the owner of a Peruvian restaurant on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia received a health department citation when a skinned guinea pig carcass was found in the walk-in freezer.

Scary fast food urban legends:
Does McDonald's Use Worm Meat as Filler in Its Burgers?
Does Taco Bell Use Meat Rated "Grade D - Not for Human Consumption"?
Woman Finds Chicken Head in Box of McDonald's Wings
Worker Puts HIV+ Blood in Ketchup Dispenser
Cockroach Egg Tacos
The McPus Sandwich
Kentucky Fried Brain

Sources and further reading:

Wild Animal Markets in China May Be Breeding SARS
USA Today, 29 Ocotber 2003

Cats - Friend or Food?
Essay by Sarah Hartwell

Last updated: 05/18/14

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