neigh neigh neigh

This just in…

Germany is in the throes of another meat scandal.  First information surfaced that there was horse meat in some frozen lasagna, burgers, and the like.  Then information surfaced that horse meat had even made it into the sacred (cough) orbs of Ikea meatballs.  People are very, very upset.

Some are claiming that the issue here is labeling, that the question here is “can we trust anything we read on labels anymore?”  Which is certainly part of the problem.  But labeling was an issue before (labelling for genetically modified foods, anyone?) and very few people were yelling about it.  And that leads me to suspect that the real issue here isn’t the labeling.  The issue here is that a lot of people feel uncomfortable eating horses, an animal most people in the western world think of as a pet, as a friendly pink illustration on the Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper they had in third grade, as the stars of books marketed at young girls, as the talking wonder that was Mr. Ed.  If some chicken had accidentally gotten into the frozen hamburger, would anyone be freaking out?

Of course nobody likes being tricked into eating animals they didn’t consent to consume.  (SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!)  When my friends, who spend every summer working in Switzerland (a country where it is totally normal to eat horse, fyi), brought a little package of sliced stallion back with them I felt mildly uncomfortable about trying it.  (But I did, just a tiny bite, and it tasted just fine.)  I have been through the conditioning, and I get the instinctive puky response that our minds force on our bodies when we realize we have broken a dietary taboo.  Yet, simultaneously, it all feels kind of silly.

There are a hell of a lot of people on planet earth who do eat horse, and who are probably shaking their heads in disbelief and amusement at the media response to the German horse meat scandal.  According to wikipedia the top eight horse-eating countries “consume about 4.7 million horses a year.”  Reading further, I was intrigued to discover that many of these taboos also have roots in Christian imperialism and classism. Once again, according to wikipedia, “In 732 A.D., Pope Gregory III began a concerted effort to stop the ritual consumption of horse meat in pagan practice. In some countries, the effects of this prohibition by the Roman Catholic Church have lingered and horse meat prejudices have progressed from taboos, to avoidance, to abhorrence. In other parts of the world, horse meat has the stigma of being something poor people eat and is seen as a cheap substitute for other meats, such as pork and beef.”

When you look at the issue from a culturally neutral perspective, there is no issue.  When considering the consumption of horse meat, I can’t help but think of Game of Thrones.  And if horse meat is good enough for the Dothraki, then it is good enough for me.

0 Comments on “neigh neigh neigh

  1. Haha I was thinking Game of Thrones too. I was just reading a part about them eating dead horses or horses with broken legs etc (book 5 or whatever) and kind of laughing about this whole scandal. Of course, I can understand the aversion, having gotten mildly squeamish about eating chickens I had raised and gotten very close to- and most people get even closer to their horses. I don’t have a lot of time but in short I think a lot of it goes to some kind of instinctual aversion to raising something, getting it to trust you and even care for you, and then turning around and killing it. Which is what domestication is all about, at the end of the day.

  2. I completely agree. It’s about a special relationship and feelings towards the “pet” horse.

    Strangely, nobody feels about cows that way here, though they have been dutifully delivering milk and pulling ploughs for millennia, and certainly deserve some special credit for their part in establishing civilisation.

    Then again, maybe it would be more acceptable to eat horse than beef in India, for example?

  3. fishie: Sure, but I would guess that the percent of the population who have actually raised a horse is a minority number.

    Jan: I bet it is (more acceptable in India than beef), though I didn’t look into which countries exactly are into horse meat. So really what I am saying is that I have no idea.

  4. I thought this was just happening in the UK! Well whaddaya know.
    I’ve actually been surprised by the lack of disgust from the British population. In characteristic form the public seem to find it more amusing than anything else and any anger stems from the fact we’ve been sold something at beef prices that is a helluva lot cheaper, and so conned. On the plus side, market stalls and butchers have seen a general 60% increase in their business and people are eating less supermarket and processed meat. Which is good all around!

  5. Pingback: The Week in Germany: Borders, horses, and the Berlin Wall | Young Germany

  6. Or, it might be that for a significant portion of the world’s population, horses are forbidden to eat?

  7. I thought the worry was that there is a common medication for horses that is bad for humans, and if there is unregulated horse meat in the market it could well contain traces of the medication? I’m sorry I’m not very well informed it was something a friend who used to raise horses mentioned.

  8. I never understood the girly obsession with horses. I find them weird-looking and alarmingly large, though I respect their abilities and enjoy meeting one up close and petting its nose. I’ve also always felt a bit disturbed at the suddenness with which they can break and die.

    Given that vulnerability, it seems to me that when a horse who was in excellent health suddenly breaks a leg and dies, somebody ought to eat it. Not me because I rarely eat red meat and don’t really like it. But I see no problem with making horses into dog food or even people food, so long as there are no safety issues, because otherwise it would just be a waste of a lot of protein.

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