Viewers were scandalized when Top Chef El Salvador, their local version of the American reality series, prepared live iguanas during primetime television. The show’s four finalists were tasked with slicing the reptiles into original dishes for the judges. While iguanas are a traditional food in El Salvador, it was the graphic nature of the program and the fact that the reptiles are a protected and endangered species that sparked outrage:
On top of the broadcast, Top Chef El Salvador took to social media to share photos of the contestants cutting off the tails and skinning the creatures. All of these images have now been deleted.
During the airing, host Gina Salazar did say that there was no wrongdoing and that the iguanas were sourced from a farm with a permit from the Ministry of Agriculture. They even went as far as to post photos of the legal documents used to obtain the iguanas. Many folks weren’t buying it, including the head of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) Lina Phol. She clapped back and said that while they may have obtained the wildlife legally, she did not sign off on having their consumption promoted on national television. The ministry is currently conducting an investigation, but meanwhile they put an iguana banner on their homepage that reads “9 in 10 iguanas die in transport. Do not buy them.”
Though it’s not an everyday food, iguanas are indeed an occasional part of the regional cuisine in Central America and have been for thousands of years. For some it’s a special dish for holidays or regional festivals, others use them for their alleged medicinal properties. Aside from food consumption, part of what could be driving their endangerment is the increase in demand for iguanas as pets over the last few decades. Another factor, according to the Iguana Specialist Group, is human encroachment on their habitats. This is especially true for El Salvador, which is already the most densely populated country in Central America and the second most deforested in Latin America.
Check out the fiasco for yourself. Beware, it’s graphic.