Culture / Diet / Food

Horsemeat is Food for Fodder

Photo Credit: shu tu via CC Search cc

A butcher in Venice, Italy displays equine products for sale.
Photo Credit: shu tu via CC Search cc 

By Maren Tarro

— A horse is a horse, of course, of course, unless, of course, that horse has found its way into your flame-grilled patties. Turns out, at least in some countries, they’re not “all-beef.” This discovery has consumers chomping at the bit to exclaim their outrage, indignation and horror at chewing a mammal that’s not the mammal they thought it was.

Before we get to the meat of this issue, let’s be clear: No horse has been found in any products stateside. The equine infiltration is so far limited to Europe, though this hasn’t stopped Americans from swearing off Burger King, Ikea and Taco Bell. Your Facebook and Twitter feeds will likely confirm this.

On its surface this appears to be a situation in which consumers feel misled about what they’ve consumed, and, rightly so, are demanding truth in labeling. And who can disagree? Consumers have a right to know what they’re purchasing. But this particular outrage seems misguided because it extends beyond mislabeling into food taboos. Had the inquiry found beef mixed with pork, it’s doubtful there would be such uproar.

There is nothing wrong about eating a horse when considered from a nutritional view. Horsemeat is low in fat, and surpasses beef when it comes to protein and iron. But horses are beasts we name, love, romanticize, and are usually the pets of the privileged and wealthy. They are designated for rolling meadows and happy-ever-after stories—not the dinner plate. We consider horse a food source only when we are also considering great-grandma’s dining table as a heat source. For Americans to dine on Black Beauty, times must be tough. The very idea is rife with implications.

While we’re wondering if we really had our last Whopper our way, we’ve hardly raised a stink about a study disclosing widespread seafood mislabeling. An average of 33 percent of fish sold is mislabeled, which means 87 percent of snapper is not snapper, and 59 percent of tuna isn’t tuna. Before you say, “Well, fish is fish,” think again. The fish you thought you were ordering may have been substituted with fish containing high mercury levels like tilefish, or, even more fun, escolar. Eating escolar can result in keriorrhea which causes an oily, orange discharge from one’s anus. Fun! But at least it wasn’t horse, I guess?

We seem to have enacted food standards that only apply to certain foods. And while we’re comfortable hiding behind the idea that these standards are “cultural,” they deserve to be explored instead of accepted as simply how things are.

We eat animals. All the time. They have feet and faces. We raise them (often in terrible conditions), kill them (cruelly), skin them (pulling the skin off the part we want to eat), cut them up (into the pieces we buy wrapped in cellophane packages), and eat them. The idea that only certain animals (cows, pigs, chickens) are acceptable to American palettes is silly at best, and, at worst, may even suggest more troubling leanings in our thinking about food.

After all, if partaking in horse (or any other taboo protein source) is only to be done as a last resort and a means of pure survival—put bluntly, OK for poor people—then this attitude suggests classism. Consider the scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou when the trio of fugitives seeks assistance from cousin Wash Hogwallop. Hogwallop serves horse for dinner, horse he suspects is past its expiration date, and the meal is heartily enjoyed until its underlying source is revealed. Not only did the characters fail to notice on their own what they were eating (much like the hordes of Swedish meatball lovers at Ikea), but the dialogue makes clear slaughtering the horse is a direct effect of the Depression. Add Hogwallop’s portrayal as a traitorous, backwoods hick, and the message is clear: Eating horse is uncivilized.

This leads to another unsettling question. If eating horse is considered uncivilized in America but seen as acceptable elsewhere, what does this suggest about our view of other cultures?

Attaching status to food is nothing new. Religions label certain foods as unclean, and entire cuisines are rooted in underprivileged populations creating fit fare from castoffs. While these cuisines have achieved an elevation in status today, divisions remain. Ire over steaks purchased with food stamps and attempts to restrict purchases points to an unsavory aspect of food’s place in our culture.

Until we can come to the table with a more egalitarian view towards food then every meal will served with a side of incivility, and this—not horsemeat—should leave a sour taste in our mouths.

19 thoughts on “Horsemeat is Food for Fodder

  1. I’ve been disappointed in the content of NM Compass. Perhaps that’s a result of my skewed expectations that articles would pertain to NM and be a relevant alternative to other NM media. This article is a prime example. It is the first to come close to relevancy and provoking thought; however it misses the mark because it doesn’t make the NM connection:


    • The New Mexico connection is the pollution from a slaughter house that makes a smell and backs up sewage systems and creates environmental violations and the crime that has been documented that comes with the terror and the bad working conditions also well documented from the past. Who wants that?

  2. You have missed the mark entirely. Americans as a society do not eat cat, dog or horse. Nor do we sell cats and dogs to cultures that do. Why horses? Money – pure and simple. It IS a horrid end for a horse, in the US or anywhere else. But most of all our horses are not regulated as food animals and routinely receive drugs that make them ineligible for human consumption. And here is a thought for you – if we simply STOPPED BREEDING the horses in the first place we would not have an excess.
    Not a thought provoking article. More like a poor attempt at humor.

  3. I have never been rich and privileged and horses all too often do not have a Happily Ever After Story because of the slaughter industry. I have known this since the late 1950s as a kid in 4H! Does anyone in authority ever consider alternatives to the cruelty and the contaminated meat and the breeders who have put us in this situation? We need to be going in new directions and not holding onto the out dated past. Stop slaughter from returning anywhere in the USA and stand against it in New Mexico!

  4. The writer of this article and Rep. Bandy both don’t have a clue……does the NM Compass not see the news about what’s going on in the world? It’s not merely misrepresentation…..let’s get all the facts out there….it has to do with TOXIC horse meat…..which is a danger to humans… seem to have forgotten to mention that in your article. Why do you suppose most of the drugs given to horses (and, yes, that includes something as simple as horse wormer) are clearly labelled: Not intended for horses meant for human consumption. Horse slaughter is a predatory business run by predatory people. Google Kaufman TX to see what a horse slaughter plant did to their town. And the one Valley Meats wants to open in NM……they were shut down by USDA when they slaughtered beef… you think they’ve turned over a new ethical leaf???

  5. Mislabeling horse flesh as beef goes far beyond taboo. American horses are routinely given drugs that are banned in ALL food animals. It can be a matter of life and death to the consumer. No horse flesh has been found as mislabeled beef stateside yet, but is it really being tested for far and wide? No. We do not have a USDA that protects us from mislabeling or contaminents. Anyone eating Gulf of Mexico seafood is playing russian roulette as the neurotoxin dispersant (banned in other countries) that the EPA graciously allowed the Coast Guard to dump tens of millions of gallons on the BP oil gusher, causes genetic mutation.
    Americans don’t eat horse, we don’t want our horses eaten, and we sure don’t want our tax dollars paying for inspection of a toxic meat to be exported. If you want to eat horse, go to Italy and enjoy your bute.

  6. Egalitarian? Eating is a personal responsibility of the most basic order. That does not leave a bad taste in my mouth. Horsemeat does, though.

  7. Ms/Mr Tarro fails in her/his attempts to justify the consumption of an animal that has not been a food animal to Americans for some 50 years.

    She states: “We seem to have enacted food standards that only apply to certain foods. And while we’re comfortable hiding behind the idea that these standards are “cultural”, they deserve to be explored instead of accepted as simply how things are.”

    American food standards/preferences DO apply to certain foods and to certain animal species. No surprises there, that’s what cultural preference are. I happily align with the 80% of Americans who oppose horse slaughter and eating horse meat. Mo exploration necessary.

    This is the lamest defense of eating horse meat that has crossed my monitor. Read what you wrote, please. For example: “Hogwallop serves horse for dinner, horse he suspects is past its expiration date, and the meal is heartily enjoyed until its underlying source is revealed.”
    So horse meat is included in a film’s scene, and the characters oppose it when they learn the source of the meat?
    That’s evidence that the characters oppose eating horse meat. Duh.

    She states: “This leads to another unsettling question. If eating horse is considered uncivilized in America but seen as acceptable elsewhere, what does this suggest about our view of other cultures?”

    I’ll tell you what that suggests. It suggests – no, it evidences – that other cultures consume as they like. American cultural practices are those practices which a majority of Americans are comfortable participating in, and Americans don’t eat horsemeat.

    If you’re asking this American what she thinks of Quebecois, or French citizens as they eat horse meat, my response is this: their consumption threatens my horse and my friends’ horses and makes our horses a target for theft or misrepresentation for slaughter. That’s a threat to our horses, and I resent that very much. Dining preferences be damned.

  8. This article is timely, considering the current issue of a proposed horse slaughter facility opening in NM. However, it did not even begin to address the issue at hand (or at hoof). How about some real facts? The writer could do a bit more research and tell what it would mean to have this type of business in NM. Like, who would benefit? The horses? The people who have no other use for horses? Those who just are looking to make a quick buck and care nothing about whether or not killing horses is done humanely? Whether horse meat laced with toxic chemicals (drugs) is even marketable? And why is there a need for this?

    The fact is, some people eat horse meat. Many people find this repulsive and questionable, for many different reasons. The prospect of having a horse slaughterhouse in our state deserves more consideration than a trite article that covers none of the pros and cons. It’s a serious subject that should ask us to consider our values, and question our compassion and humanity, for our own sake as well as that of every horse that may someday end up on the kill floor.

  9. I find it apropos that you used “Black Beauty” as your example of a beloved horse that might be eaten should times get rough. In fact Black Beauty is the story of abhorent abuse and neglect of an animal. Maybe you should have used Flicka or Trigger.

    Since the days of Tom Mix and his faithful steed Tony horses have had a special place in our heart and IMHO played a large part in stopping ‘mustangers’ from ravaging the range of wild horses. With a parade of heros like Silver, Topper, Champion and Trigger America turned away from what once was an acceptable staple.

    There was a time when Americans supplemented their diet by eating rabbit. Some folks even raised them on the rooftops of their apartment buildings in major metropolitan cities but along came Bugs Bunny and an entire industry bit the dust.

    How do we stop horse slaughter in this country? We need a new Hero…The Black Stallion and Hidalgo were great but they weren’t Trigger!

  10. A shallow fluffy report on a serious issue. The truth of Horse Slaughter has nothing to do with what we put on our plates. It has to do with the inhumane treatment of horses – animals never raised as food as are cows, pigs, chickens and sheep. Horses are companion animals who have carried civilization on their backs for centuries.
    When we start slaughtering horses to eat then why not dogs and cats? Where will it all end?
    The horse slaughter issue is a community issue because this industry brings nothing but negative impacts from increase in violent crimes to lower property values. People complain about the excess of horses but slaughter isn’t the answer – responsible breeding is.

    When we disconnect from the real issues of horse slaughter as this the writer of this article has done, we disconnect from our own humanity.

    Responsible reporting would be reporting on the true horrors of Horse Slaughter. Just look back to one year ago when Animal Angels investigated a slaughterhouse that had many sick and abused animals. That person has never been prosecuted in New Mexico. If Slaughterhouses open in New Mexico that is the kind of thing we will have to get used to seeing on a daily basis. So put that on your plate and see how good it tastes!!!!

  11. The writer never mentioned all of the carcinagens in horsemeat! horses are not raised for human consumption. guess he conveniently left that part out, or he doesnt know all the facts on horses!!!!

  12. Horse meat is toxic & there is not way to trace horses veterinarian records….kill-buyers lie & forge papers…..when times get hard all things get consumed for money…horses are just the latest victims …revolting to eat companion animals….

  13. Horse slaughtering is becoming a loosing business just like the horse racing industry. Just watch, governments will scramble to prop them up with taxpayers money so that more people will innocently enough poison themselves to death with all the crap that horses are medicated with these days. Come on people, take back your lives and spare those of the innocent horses.

  14. This strikes me as a pro horse slaughter pr campaign. By socializing the act of eating horses, horse slaughter is introduced as acceptable and necessary. Encouraging consumption of horses as a meat source only provides more incentives for over breeding horses to feed the slaughter industry. Humane euthanasia and a backhoe has been the end for all the horses I’ve ever owned but that is because I care about their wellbeing to the end, not making money off their carcass. If uninformed backyard breeders and the Horse Racing Industry actually cared about all their animals and not just making money, overbreeding and discarding culls, there would not be so many unwanted horses today. Do NOT allow horse slaughter to enable these people to continue to breed horses for the slaughter market.

  15. Very thought provoking piece. That it has generated much heat & relatively little light points to our inability or unwillingness to consider whether we have a right to eat any other animals & the costs of our choices from an ecological & moral point of view.

  16. These are all interesting points, and while building slaughterhouses in New Mexico and the horrendous practices related to racehorses are all topics worthy of discussion, my point was meat is meat. Horse (or goat, dog, water buffalo, kangaroo, muskrat, alligator, raccoon, squirrel, beaver, opossum, insects, iguana, deer, bear, rattlesnake, rabbit, and so many other animals) is regularly eaten by many populations. While this doesn’t mean you have to eat it, you also don’t have to judge those that do. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating horse-provided that horse is safe to eat and has been raised and slaughtered humanely. The same goes for everything we eat. What is wrong is attaching stigma to the practice of eating something we don’t normally eat. If we say there is something wrong or abnormal about eating horse then we say there is something wrong or abnormal about the eater. I find this to be problematic, and I believe we owe the topic some consideration. The discovery of horse being sold as beef and the reactions to this news shed light on how we view what and why we eat (or don’t eat) the things we do.

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