I'm probably in the hated minority here, but I'd eat a lion. Of course, I'd eat pretty much anything that has a face, but I'd definitely eat a lion. And not just because they were my ex-girlfriend’s favorite animals and I want to subtly destroy everything she ever held dear—preferably with my digestive acids.
Recently, restaurants from Philly to Arizona have come under fire because lion meat is on their menus. This is essential because we've established an arrogant, human-centric hierarchy of animals based on their attractiveness that we'll never admit to. Apparently, pretty animals should never, ever be eaten. It's worth noting that the African lion, the one that is being served as a snack, is not endangered despite its dwindling numbers. The primary reason cited for this population decline is vengeance killings committed by native African peoples (who typically do not eat lion meat for cultural reasons), followed by disease and worsening environmental conditions. The lions killed for food are raised on farms in the United States, according to the South Philadelphia Tap Room, one of the restaurants that serve the meat. It is not illegal, nor is it USDA inspected—so you eat at your own risk.
I support vegetarianism even if I choose to not participate, but we also have to acknowledge that humans have evolved as omnivores. Our biological nature can't be held against us. We are a race of conquerors and explorers because we possess the intellect to do so (and forward-facing eyes, a common characteristic of hunting animals), and while this is often confused with the right to do so, it's the only thing that's carried us this far. We're supposed to be intelligent enough to monitor our own diets, maintain a healthy balance of nutrients, and not eat glass (unless handsomely paid to do so), and those of us who aren't capable of this are naturally selected to not stick around for too long.
Our dubious success as a species has brought about the farming of animals. We grow them, we eat them, and we repeat the process. It's not always done in the most humane, polite, delicate way possible, but nothing that we do really is. Telling a cow how awesome it is or throwing a necktie on it won't make it taste any better, or arguably feel any better, so a lot of formalities are cast aside. Even still, I'll rarely kill a spider or step on a bug because it might be inconveniencing me, so I sympathize if animal cruelty is your primary reason for not eating meat. No, the way that we distribute our natural resources to farm meat is not sustainable, but to claim that eating meat in general is unsustainable is mathematically ignorant.
Raising one animal for meat is not morally different than doing the same with any other animal. How is a farm-raised lion any different than a farm-raised cow or pig? There's the argument that carnivorous predators do not eat other carnivorous predators in the wild, whether they are obligate or facultative, but if we're anything as a species, we are opportunistic apex omnivores. We are a species that breaks the rules that we define for creatures that we don't respect as much as we respect ourselves. We're only beginning to understand how the closed ecosystem of our planet works, so don't hand some moral judgment down on me because I want to taste all of creation. And don't act so surprised when you catch a couple of male penguins humping each other in defiance of the rules you made up for them.
Unfortunately, there's also the issue of how these restaurants are obtaining their lion meat. Some have named imaginary farms on state borders; Spoto's Steak Joint in Tampa, FL claims to get their meat directly from South Africa; others like Il Vinaio in Mesa, AZ claim to get their lion from professional taxidermists, pleading ignorance of anything that happens before that particular link in the chain. Is moral ambiguity enough license to eat meat of unknown origins? Even if it's delicious?
Are these places actually serving genuine lion meat? There's a lot of doubt surrounding the precise facts, but regardless of the truth, the outrage is real—and I can't help but think it's unwarranted. Lions are certainly neat animals, and it might be a little luxurious to eat them, but in terms of acceptable human excess, it's a ridiculously minor concern. PETA and its acolytes need to realize that helping animals is not an answer to an ongoing problem. It is the treatment of a symptom, not the source of the disease. When we elevate humanity to a place where it can sustain itself and we can work in the same direction, a more acceptable world for animals will naturally follow. Pardon my unabashed optimism and disappointment.
No, we don't need to eat lion meat to survive. We also don't need to eat pizza rolls, drink beer, or smoke cigarettes—but you might be equally recalcitrant to stop indulging in those particular things. It might sound like human arrogance to claim dominion over the lions, but it's more arrogant to assign a value scale to other, 'lesser' creatures.