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.