President Nicolas Maduro wants Venezuelans to breed rabbits to solve the economic disaster he and his predecessor Hugo Chavez created, which has led to millions of formerly middle-class Venezuelans starving, begging on the streets, and giving up their children.
“The rabbit isn’t a pet, it’s only two and a half kilos of meat,” Maduro said, “the first part of Plan Rabbit moves forward!”
Unfortunately, his plan had an early setback: people began keeping the rabbits as pets instead of eating them. It might seem strange that people who are starving would rather feed rabbits than themselves, but I know what that’s like: my family also tried raising rabbits to deal with the economic disaster that is Communism and it didn’t work for us either.
In the mid-1980’s, I lived with my parents in Ukraine, back when it was a part of the USSR. Although we were not so badly off, our grandparents remembered living through a period of starvation and cannibalism, and no one wanted to be dependent on the bread lines. Many people, including city dwellers, would have a small plot of land to grow vegetables to supplement their rations and feed them through periodic shortages.
Until the government seized our land and resettled us into state housing, the family plot that my family had lived on for generations was used to raise a variety of vegetables, goats, and chickens. At one point, my dad decided to raise rabbits for their meat and fur. He was an electrician, not a farmer by trade, but raising rabbits is easy enough: just built a hutch, and throw food scraps and weeds in every now and then.
Unfortunately, processing rabbits for food and fur is a different matter: not only are rabbits cute but butchering a rabbit carcass is a lot of work! The rabbits must be killed, drained, skinned, and systematically butchered with very sharp knives, then the hide must be properly tanned. While rabbit meat is delicious, it’s also very low in fat, which sounds great if you want to lose weight, but not so in a starvation situation. Rabbit meat is so low in fat, protein, and nutrients essential to humans, those trying to survive exclusively on it can still starve to death.
If you are already in a starvation situation, it is much more efficient to take any food you were planning to feed the rabbit and either eat it yourself or use it as fertilizer for plants. I disagree with PETA on a lot of things, but they are right to say that eating plants is far more efficient than feeding plants to animals, and then eating those animals – as much 90% of energy is wasted in the process. We eat meat as a luxury, or because our primitive ecosystem is not capable of growing plants that we can eat directly.
While it’s clear that rabbits are not a good choice for a country on the edge of starvation, it’s less clear why Venezuelans are keeping them as pets – where do they get the food to feed the rabbits, and why don’t they eat it themselves? This detail reveals an essential aspect of how Chavez, Maduro, and other socialist leaders remain in power: the people getting the rabbits are unlikely to be starving.
In a socialist economy, the central planners decide who gets the economic output that they seize from the producers. Last year, for example, it was reported that, in Venezuela, “solidarity bags” of food were distributed exclusively to socialist party members. The recipients of the rabbits are supporters of the regime, while those starving and the millions marching in the streets represent the majority who lack the political connections to get their own supply of rabbits.
As for my own family’s rabbits, we all had such a fun time playing with them that my dad didn’t have the heart to kill them when it came time to harvest. We didn’t have the surplus food to feed them either, as “pet food” was a capitalist luxury, so one day, our rabbit hutch disappeared, and some other farmer served them up as rabbit stew.