This week much of the news in the UK and Ireland has been dominated by the discovery of horse DNA in a number of popular supermarket beef burgers where a sample from a Tesco burger revealed that rather than being a beef burger, there was in fact 29% horse-meat. Knowing the low quality of some of our supermarket food I am most surprised that there was 29% of any meat in their burgers which always seem to be composed of bread, fat and sawdust and which pale into culinary insignificance in comparison to meat purchased from farmers markets and local independent butchers.
However much people here may be disgusted by eat horse-meat, it is popular in several countries and if not central to their diet, is still on the menu of many of countries. In Britain, Ireland, America, Australia and Brazil in particular though eating meat is a very strong social taboo as well as with the Romani peoples of Eastern Europe. This at first sight seems a little strange as it was originally Pope Gregory II in AD732 who proclaimed that eating horse-meat was a pagan and barbaric tradition. Britain and America are not known for being strongly Catholic territories and yet France is and there the eating of horse meat is routine along with other parts of Europe.
There are several reasons for this both historic and cultural. Not eating horse-meat was a good demarcating line between Christendom and barbarity. God fearing communities spent their time tending their crops whilst those that attacked them often came on horseback, stole horses and often ate them too. Somewhere like Mongolia where the whole culture and way of life revolved around horses. That was often pretty much all they had. They bred horses, they rode horses, in fact many were born on horses and if they had too many horses then they also tasted yummy too.
The British Isles are famous if nothing for being green. There is lots of rain, the ground is fertile and the grass is extremely green. In some places it almost glows as if radioactive and very well suited for cattle. Cows are much more productive, meat-wise than horses and they benefit from the higher quality grass than can be found in many of the dryer parts of the world, even in nearby Europe. There is a widespread misconception on the blandness of traditional British food often lacking in spices or sauces and this is often for the simple reason that British beef is of very high quality and doesn’t need strong tasting disguises to make it pleasant to eat be it garlic, onions, curry or peppers.
Another reason that English speaking lands don’t eat horse is that they are seen as noble and intelligent animals. Horses would work on farms and carry people and goods around the country. In Britain in particular horses where vital to our military. If the army and soldiers were seen as brave and noble then so were their horses, richly decorated often with silver trappings.
Many horses were awarded medals for gallantry and distinguished service, some were even given military ranks as if they were officers and treated better than many poor civilians in a comfortable retirement. They also suffered terribly as anyone who has seen last years film “Warhorse” will remember. In America and Brazil, the land was colonised by cowboys who rode horses. Horses meant everything to them, they were often a matter of life and death or their only trusted friend. Who is going to eat their best friend?
Napoleon found that when his army ran out of supplies, the soldiers who ate horse-meat became immune from scurvy and during the 19th Century there was a succession of severe famines across mainland Europe during which eating horses became the only way to eat meat.
Even when things improved, the culture of eat horses became mainstream. There were times in the 1920’s in Britain when some horse-meat was eaten and in parts of the USA during WW2. Since then not eating horse as well as being a taboo has also long been a cultural form of chauvinism. We don’t eat horses like those over the English Channel who also eat snails and frogs
There is no real reason why we shouldn’t eat horses when we eat cows, sheep and most eat pork as well as a variety of other mammals, birds and fish. I myself wouldn’t go out and eat horse-meat but have no objection to it and if it were found out that I had inadvertently eaten it then I wouldn’t be too bothered. If I was in France and I got served it in a restaurant I would try it but on the other hand it does all seem a little bit disgusting to me. Which does seem rather strange I admit but then though I have no desire to eat horse, I would much rather eat it than dog which is popular in some Asian states or than slimy looking caviar, hideous looking lobsters or of course frog legs and snails. Having said all that I do remember having sheeps ear in Jordan once when staying with some Bedouin and it tasted fine although it was discerning that it still looked like an ear.
As for the current uproar in the U.K., I say be upset because supermarkets can’t source their food properly. I have eaten burgers from one of the supermarkets named but not from Tesco and their 29% horse burger but if I ate horse, it tasted fine. Anyone who is that bothered should maybe become vegetarian or pay a little more like I try to and buy the best quality beef from a butchers or farm direct. If you want to live dangerously, eat some horse but if you really want to live life on the edge, buy some Tesco branded anything.