The researchers had hypothesized that because cat meat was not a preferred food, its consumption would be restricted to economic hard times. They were wrong. There was no evidence that people turned to eating cat only as a last resort when other forms of meat were unavailable. Rather, killing and eating cats seemed to be motivated more by sheer opportunity than necessity or a pronounced culinary preference.
The researchers also wanted test the notion that food taboos are culturally transmitted. Thus they predicted that the towns would differ in the strength of prohibitions against eating feline flesh. This was technically true: for example, 10% of the residents in one town had a personal taboo against eating cat compared to none of the inhabitants of another town. On the whole, however, only 3% of all the individuals interviewed in the study were disgusted by the idea of eating cat meat. As the consumption of dog meat is widely tabooed on the island of Madagascar, the lack of prohibitions against eating cats is surprising.
To me, the biggest surprise of the research was related to how Madagascarans obtained their cat meat. Half of the time they simply ate the family pet. Cat meat was also commonly acquired in the form of gifts from friends. And sometimes cats were caught by hand or by trapping. In one of the towns, most of the cats were – gulp — road kill. Hardly anyone had ever bought cat meat at a market.