By now we've all heard about the European horse-meat "scandal," with bits of Mr. Ed being discovered in processed frozen-beef products -- everything from Burger King hamburger patties to lasagna. But why the hell is everyone freaking out? It's horse meat, not poison, and if horse meat were sold at grocery stores here in the States, I might be nibbling on a haunch of roasted mustang right now.
Here are five reasons why eating horse meat isn't such a terrible tragedy.
5. Horse meat is perfectly edible. I agree that it's wrong to falsely label horse meat as other kinds of meat. The consumer public puts a lot of faith and trust in food providers to provide them with products that are properly and accurately labeled to reflect the actual contents, and when that trust is broken, people have a right and a responsibility to hold the providers accountable. But horse meat is not inherently harmful, so some of the screaming could be unnecessary posturing: Horse meat is just as edible as beef, pork, venison or chicken. (It doesn't taste like chicken, though -- if it did, maybe no one would have noticed the switch.)
4. People in other countries eat horse meat regularly. People in France, the Netherlands, parts of the Mediterranean, China, Russia, Mexico, Mongolia, Argentina and Japan eat horse meat. They makes soups, stews, sausages and even dumplings with horse meat -- and those dishes are reputedly delicious. Horse is consumed in other countries partly out of necessity (it's what's available) and partly out of choice: Without taboos, horse is just another edible meat, readily available and marketed like chicken fryer parts and legs of lamb are here. The Irish and Brits who seem most upset about eating horse aren't exactly known the world over for their haute cuisine, and I wonder how many of them would notice a difference in taste or texture if their shepherd's pie or bangers -- with mash -- were cooked with seasoned, ground horse rather than beef.
Or how many Americans would notice if they were gobbling up horse cheeseburgers or hot dogs? After all, the things that go in hot dogs would likely scare a horse to death.
3. Horse actually tastes pretty good. I have eaten horse meat before, and I loudly proclaim it to be both delicious and in some ways superior to beef. It tastes a bit sweeter, is less fatty and a tad more gamey than beef, but far less exotic in flavor than goat or venison. Since it's leaner than beef, I prefer it braised rather than grilled -- grilled horse tastes a lot like grilled bison to me. It would a decent substitute for other red meats in every traditional dish I can think of -- except maybe holiday mincemeat pies, which will still be kind of gross no matter what goes in them.
If horse were available I'd regularly purchase it -- provided it wasn't tagged with the same high prices of specialty meats like veal. And old horses en route to the glue factory would be better served being butchered for supper: I'd treat the meat like stewing hens and toss it in a crock pot with a few carrots and potatoes for giddyup stew.
2. Cultural issues have and do change Americans don't eat dog for the same reasons they don't eat horses: Because our culture dictates that horseys and doggies are our friends and companions, that they are noble, majestic, intelligent creatures who live to serve and love humans as their protectors and benefactors. The idea of relegating our friends and companions to the oven or soup pot is reprehensible to most people.
But cultural ideas about what is and isn't okay to eat have changed in the past -- people have been deathly afraid of now-normal things like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, mushrooms and offal, for example, as well as anything out of a can. The can part was perfectly understandable, since early tin-can processing was less than sanitary, and the mangled, boiled things in them were not exactly safe or tasty. But things got better with time and technological advances, and processing horse could, as well. And honestly, the processing of horse meat wouldn't be nearly as tricky as the marketing.
1. Meat can get expensive. Why not have another source? I love meat. I love planning recipes with meat, pinching fat cuts of meat through chilly cellophane wrappings at the grocery store, peering at the rows of plump, fat-ringed steaks at the butcher shop, and I love picking just the right cut and type to make the perfect dish of whatever. But what I do not love is paying high prices for meat. Sure, there is a certain joy in the American privilege of bitching about meat prices like a bored old hag, but I would far prefer to pay less for meat -- and have more choices.
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I didn't create the circle of life; The Lion King did. I would gladly eat lions, tigers and bears, all with a splash of A-1 sauce and a loaded baked potato -- topped with salty horse bacon.