A Swiss Wildlife Park Is Serving Its Animals As Carpaccio

At Wildnispark Langenberg in Zurich, visitors can gaze upon majestic wild boars, deer, moose, bison, and more—and then they can head to one of the park's restaurants and eat them.

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Oct 8 2014, 9:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar

When Paris was starving like mad during the Siege of 1870, a revered chef named Alexandre Étienne Choron was given the strange and unique honor of creating a gourmet menu that put to use the city zoo's animals, which could no longer be cared for due to the occupation and destruction overpowering the area. For his distinguished restaurant's Christmas dinner that year, Choron served stuffed donkey head, consommé of elephant, kangaroo stew, and fried camel—beasts typically considered too majestic or curious for consumption in the West. It was potent commentary about the defeatism and frustration of the city in its war-ravaged condition, at once still beautiful and horribly emaciated; in his menu, desperation and decadence became one and the same. But if Paris hadn't been under siege when this dinner took place, his menu would likely have been received much differently. Choron did not march down to a lively, functional zoo, point to a well-fed tiger, and demand that it be made into meatballs.

Fast forward nearly 150 years. In Zurich, Switzerland, there is a charming wildlife park called Wildnispark Langenberg. At the park, visitors can witness the peaceful majesty of four different types of elegant, antlered deer with velvety coats and gentle eyes; massive, brooding moose and bison; bristly wild boars; and an impressive assortment of foxes, wolves, bears, beavers, otters, and lynx, among other wild animals.

And then, they can eat them.

There are several restaurants at Langenberg, including the Bear Enclosure and the Hunter's Room. And at both of the aforementioned, you can sink your teeth into the very animals that you just oohed and aahed over, from wild deer carpaccio to braised wild boar to venison in Cognac sauce—all sourced from right at home. (Not all of the animals on site make for delicious dinner dishes; those with hooves seem to be the meats of choice.)

Now, before you get all up in arms about this ethically questionable situation (which, unsurprisingly, many patrons have), you should know that the park considers these deer and boars to be "surplus." What is unclear is whether this surplus is the result of a very poorly regulated breeding program or if the park is actually intentionally raising animals with the intent of killing, cooking, and serving them. Either way, there are implications. Implications that the public does not necessarily like. After watching Bambi prance happily through flower-speckled meadows and lush forests with his herd, some animal lovers apparently would rather not see his mother's backside thinly sliced with a side of arugula.

So if the surplus is such an issue, why doesn't the park implement a stricter neutering program among its four-legged inhabitants? The Langenberg Wildlife Park stands by its culling-and-cooking policy, citing overcrowding and the lack of relocation options. (Animals that have been living in captivity often reacclimate poorly to being released into the wild.) The park also claims that only about 50 deer and 10 boar made their way onto their menu last year.

It is commonplace, though heavily disliked by the public, for zoos to euthanize "excess" animals. Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Zoo caught massive flak for killing a perfectly robust two-year-old giraffe (supposedly to prevent inbreeding) and feeding its dismembered but recognizable carcass to a pack of hungry lions in front of visitors. (A month later, they killed four lions to socially accommodate a new lion that they were introducing.) Animal Rights Sweden responded to the move by stating, "It is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don't have genes that are interesting enough … The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos."

Though there has been public outcry about Langenberg's policies, nearly every zoo—in the United States and elsewhere—has restaurants and food stands that serve some kind of meat, typically in the form of hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. What is it that differentiates eating a hot dog at the Central Park Zoo from eating roast boar at Langenberg? The deer for your venison likely lived a more charmed life of mobbing in the park with its buddies than the factory-farmed chicken that topped your kale caesar at yesterday's lunch.

Some would argue that this is farm-to-table at its finest.