ROME -- Italian state TV has suspended a cooking show host who shocked the nation by saying cat stew is a Tuscan delicacy he swears he has enjoyed many times.
RAI TV confirmed on Wednesday that it had suspended Beppe Bigazzi, the 77-year-old host of a popular morning program that offers food tips and recipes in a country fiercely proud of its cuisine.
When his 27-year-old female co-host looked stunned as Bigazzi said he has eaten cat stew "many times," the white-haired, grandfather figure defended his tastes.
"Why, people maybe don't eat rabbit, chicken, pigeon?" Bigazzi said. He could have added horse meat, which many butchers and supermarket meat departments stock.
"Who's not fat, kills the cat," is how Bigazzi began his lighthearted prattle about cat stew.
Bigazzi claimed cat stew was a Tuscan specialty near the Arno river valley, but co-host Elisa Isoardi looked so embarrassed she ducked behind a cart of fresh salad greens whose healthy virtues the two were supposed to be chatting about.
"Cat, soaked for three days in the running water of a stream" in Tuscany "comes out with its meat white, and I assure you - I have eaten it many times - that it is a delicacy," Bigazzi continued.
His critics included Health Ministry Undersecretary Francesca Martini.
"Cats are pets protected by law," Martini noted, specifically against "cruelty, maltreatment and abandonment."
She lamented in a statement issued by the Health Ministry that Bigazzi's advocating cat stew "hurts sensibility, which is fortunately steadily growing, of citizens toward animals."
The director of the RAI channel the show runs on, Mauro Mazza, called the decision to suspend Bigazzi for an unspecified amount of time as "painful but inevitable."
Only a few moments after revealing his startling recipe, Bigazzi seemed to anticipate he would be barraged with criticism. "Now there will be letters from nature lovers. Why don't they defend rabbits?" he asked.
By Wednesday, two days after the showed was broadcast, the YouTube video clip had recorded more than 55,000 hits, and more than 800 comments registered.