The Horse Delimma
By Natalie Rosenberg
Horse meat is probably one of the biggest culinary taboos in America- right up there with insects or dog. Maybe it’s the myth of the Old West, the excitement of Derby Day, or the horrendous cruelty that goes into slaughtering these animals. Any way you slice it, there’s a stigma in the United States about horse meat. Maybe this is because everyone’s worst fears are a reality when it comes to slaughtering horses. We’re not talking caged hens that defecate all over themselves and don’t move for weeks. That’s definitely disturbing, but not as gut wrenching as the starvation, physical brutality and paralysis causing stabbings that horses experiences before they are killed.
Horse slaughtering was regularly practiced in the U.S. for profit- Until recently, 65,000 American horses had been slaughtered every year in this country and exported for human consumption. Those days, however, are now over with the passing of the “Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act” by Congress on September 24th, 2008, who has now closed the last three remaining horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., and made it unlawful to sell horse meat.
That said, horse meat is prevalent throughout the rest of the world (save Britain), and is considered a delicacy in Japan. There is a good reason for this: To set the health record straight, Americans would benefit if they decided to incorporate horse meat into their diet. It’s very lean and full of protein, with a sweeter flavor than beef. There is nothing potentially harmful about it, unless you take sentimentality into account. For the millions of carnivores out there that get queasy thinking about it, horse meat is not all that fundamentally different from pork or beef.
So the big question that remains is, if given the opportunity, could ranchers ever redeem themselves, and provide a more humane way of killing horses, a la grass fed cattle and free range chickens? Or have they ruined the whole concept, preventing our government to ever give it any consideration again? Jordan Matyas, Illinois State Director of The Humane Society of The United States, doesn't see that line ever getting crossed. "Our history and cultural association with these animals would most likely always come into play when weighing the issue. People will probably never become comfortable with eating Big Brown. Like dogs, horses have become our companions." According to Maytas, the issues of morality and compassion will always be a factor.
With that in mind, however, he notes that there are plenty of animals that are mistreated and unethically slaughtered for food, including chickens and cows. Many Americans choose to turn a blind eye in such cases, but may try to compensate by making a conscientious decision to buy cage free eggs, grass fed beef or certified humane products at the grocery store. As our society becomes more comfortable with certain dietary staples like steak, eggs and chicken, the rules seem to become more morally ambiguous. With this in mind, horse could be a very exciting turn in modern American gastronomy, but chefs would have to work tenfold to market it in a positive manner. Is it worth really worth all of the trouble? This could be the greatest challenge to ever touch on our foodie culture. It could also be the greatest headache, in which we should just leave well enough alone.