CHICAGO — A bill that would make it illegal to sell lion meat in Illinois prompted one major Chicago distributor of wild game to ask: What lion meat?
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) would ban the slaughter or sale for consumption of the big cats with penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
Arroyo, who didn't immediately return requests for comment, told the Sun-Times he introduced the bill because eating lion meat is "just inhumane." He said he knows of two Illinois locations where he believes the meat is sold, but declined to name names.
But when Jimmy Florek, owner of Chicago Game and Gourmet, perhaps the largest local wild game distrbutor in the city, heard about the bill, he laughed.
"That's just silly...You can't buy lion in Illinois," Florek said. "I would know if it existed, because they would come to me. It just doesn't exist."
In his 16 years in the business, Florek has sold wild boar, venison, rabbit, buffalo, elk, llama and moose to "all" of Chicago's major hotels and restaurants. He's even sold black bear and been asked for raccoon. But he's never heard of anyone wanting flesh from the king of the jungle.
"Where are you going to buy the lion to begin with?" he said.
Florek called the Lion Meat Act "stupid, absolutely a waste of time," adding that legislators should be focusing on issues that matter.
"You're serious? You're going to draft a bill to ban lion meat?" he said. "Why don’t you go help some kids, if you're going to go through that exercise?"
Florek has only heard of one instance of the sale of lion meat in Illinois — from a tiny suburban butcher shop called Czimer's Game and Seafood. The sale, however, landed owner Richard Czimer behind bars. His "lion" meat contained mostly meat from tiger, mountain lion and liger, a lion-tiger hybrid, CNNMoney reported. Those cats are federally protected from slaughter.
After the stint in jail and hefty fines, Czimer continued to sell African lion. In 2010, an Arizona restaurant looking to serve up lion burgers drew national backlash for the dish, but this time, the meat was legitimately lion, the owner told CNNMoney.
So could Czimer's be one of the two Illinois locations Arroya is looking to slam with his new bill?
The butcher shop, which also sells the likes of kangaroo and beaver, still lists African lion (19.95 per pound for steak) on its website, but notes it is currently "not available."
"Note: We currently have no available inventory of smoked items such as snack sticks, smoked meats, and jerkies (until we can satisfy new county regulations and requirements)," the website said.
Czimer was unavailable for comment Saturday, and a sign outside his Homer Glen store said it was closed all week.
Lions are not an endangered species, but as of November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into whether that could change, NBC reported. Sale, slaughter and consumption of lion is legal, and the ban in Illinois would be the first bill of its kind nationally.
And after all the fuss, does lion meat actually taste any good?
Acclaimed New York City chef and food writer Dave Arnold bought African lion meat from Czimer's in 2010 to review it on The International Culinary Center's blog.
"Lion tastes like pork with a special savory twang," he wrote. "...I liked lion, but don’t know that I would cook it all the time — I’ll stick with pork."