Anshu Pathak lives a life of contradictions.
He is the owner of a 13-acre farm in Perris, Calif., where emu, llama, ostrich, peacock, water buffalo, chicken and other animals roam on land bordered by the Santa Ana River and the San Bernardino Mountains in the horizon.
The Indian American entrepreneur speaks of the animals like they are his babies but has no compunction in killing them. Raised in a Gujarati Brahmin family he nevertheless enjoys meat cuts of all kinds. He adores his daughter but she is his greatest critic. He is diabetic but will not eschew foods to control it. He is a tough boss but will house the homeless. He fattens animals for slaughter but will go the extra mile to shelter the abandoned.
“I have two faces, I don’t understand myself,” he admits at the end of a garrulous hour.
Famous in the circles he runs in, there is also a strong whiff of notoriety attached to him. The target of animal rights activists, Pathak tends to shrug them off as part of the business. He will invite you to the farm and then send a text letting you know it’s okay if you want to alert said activists. When asked about environmental consequences, he gives elaborate answers on recycling and responsibility.
Pathak lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, drops by his farm at least twice a month and travels incessantly. You cower at some of his responses and at other times observe bemusedly his passion for his business. Even when he says, “I am a normal man,” in the end, he seems as exotic as the stuff he sells.
Excerpts from an interview with India-West:
Q: What and when was your first kill?
A: I was born in 1957 in Ahmedabad. As a hobby my father raised pigeons. I raised finches and mynah. I went on a “shikar” with friends when I was in the 9th grade. I remember we went into Pakistan by mistake and were stopped. Later, I took part in dog shows and won awards in Kolkata and Lucknow.
Q: Why did you come to the U.S.?
A: I had met an American girl in India. When she went back she told me she was pregnant and also told me not to worry, but I was ready to be a father. I landed in LAX in 1989 with $20 in my pocket and we were married in Las Vegas the next week.
Q: And then…
A: I worked in LA downtown in the diamond business but never got paid. My wife then gave me $100,000. I invested in a meat company in Georgia. My segment of the business was to bring fish to the U.S. from India, I would make door deliveries and it was going great but the company did not meet their financial obligations. I sued and won $300,000. A year earlier I had founded two companies, Gourmet Meat and Seafood of San Bernardino Inc. and Gourmet Meat and Seafood.
Q: What did you first sell?
A: I worked on concepts 30 years ago which is now popular. I knew all about “organic” and “exotic” and have had monthly clubs for fruits and vegetables. I sell gourmet cheese, nuts and fruits from India like sitaphal, jambu and chikoo. The chances that you are eating my fruit when you buy them at an Indian store is high. Also basic meats and things like alligator, turtle and bison. Exotic meats don’t make my business profitable but I love it.
Q: You seem to bring the entire animal kingdom to the dining table…
A: (Laughing) I raise what is legal in California. What is not legal here I go to other states and invest in the farms there. I oversee what they eat and how they are treated. I only sell meat that is slaughtered and processed in front of my eyes, then post pictures on Facebook for my clients to see that it is not adulterated in any way.
Q: Including lion?
A: I don’t get meat from Africa. I cannot tell you which state the lion is from or the animal activists will go there. Everything I do is as per U.S. laws. I go to Illinois for fox, possum, beaver, otter; snapping turtle and aramadillo in LA; iguana in Florida and caiman from Puerto Rico. I also sell zebra, flamingo, camel, squirrel, wildebeest and many more. Not monkey because it is not legal in the U.S.
Q: Typically, who are your customers?
A: My meat goes to tables all around the world! On the east coast there is an Indian who buys meats worth $5,000 and more per order. The famous Godrej family from India is a customer. A Nepali restaurant in the Bay Area buys yak and water buffalo for $3,000 per order. Listen, at the prices the meats sell, who can afford it? Only the rich and famous, right? So, yes, I do have famous clients but I obviously can’t name them. And Indians here, all the Patels and Brahmins? (Laughing) Sometimes I answer the phone and they are shocked to hear an Indian accent!
Q: Why do they come to you and not your competition?
A: My meat is that good! Feed makes the difference. I control the feed. Genetics makes the difference. I am careful about what is being raised. You will get chicken and turkey for less than half the price that I sell at but it won’t taste the same. My animals are all stress free.
Q: They are allowed to roam free?
A: They roam and fly free. I raise 600 animals of various kinds and they don’t fight. Why do animals fight? For food or sex. They are fed really well with fresh alfalfa; my suppliers know not to bring wilted stuff to the farm and there is always fresh water available. My other rule is to not allow girls with periods to the farm; it protects both the animals and the visitors. If you know your animals you know what to do. The water buffalo will walk up to me and lick my face. When an animal loses a baby, I sit near them and talk to them. I love them all.
Q: Yet you slaughter them.
A: I even name them but I don’t give my heart to them. I was in love with my dog Shady. After she passed, I do not feel the same. I will never have another dog for a pet, I will not share the memories.
Q: Is there any meat you won’t eat?
A: My beautiful mother once told me that the body is a temple, not a graveyard for animals. But I am the black sheep in the family. I won’t eat dog. I have never eaten monkey. I travel to other countries to eat what is legal there. I cannot stop eating meat, I have tried.
Q: Does your family worry about threats from animal activists?
A: Wives worry! I am blessed to have her in my life, no one else will support or understand me (protective, he won’t give her name). My daughter Madhvi is vegetarian. She stands at the gate sometimes and tells people not to work for me. She is the most beautiful gift from God. I have a wicked dream that one day her son turns out like me!
Favorite meat to eat: lion
Saddest moment: whenever a mom delivers a still-born
Like to cook with: Indian spices
Most expensive meat: lion, $50,000 a pound. Sold a lion penis for $10,000 to a Chinese American
Best seller: camel meat
Major no-no on farm: slaughter of female animals.