At the market last week I saw this sign advertising a horse meat stall:
|Horse Meat Butcher. It's good for your health|
Now I am sure that across the world this would elicit many different reactions. In some central Asian countries is it the most commonly eaten meat and in much of Europe, South America and Asia as a whole it is eaten in varying amounts. However in most English speaking western countries (UK, USA, Australia etc) and it is generally seen as taboo to eat horse meat, although not actually forbidden. China eats the highest amount of horse meat of any country in the world: 1,700,000 animals equating to 204,000 tonnes of meat (Source Wikipedia.)
So why the variations? In central Asia, horses are the best animals to raise on the steppes for meat and are raised in the way the west raises cattle for beef. It makes simple economic sense to eat horse meat. However in the West horses have long been given the status of a pet or working companion and it is deemed unacceptable to eat you pet or your workmate!
I am not sure why this status escaped horses in France - it is a well known fact that large amounts of horse meat was eaten the 1870 Siege of Paris so perhaps that was when the taboo was lost and it became acceptable. Now in France there are specialized butchers, "boucheries chevalines", who sell horse meat. It is at times found in supermarkets who have been allowed to sell it since the 1990's but you will not find horse meat at a "normal" butcher's shop as it is forbidden for them to sell it.
Then there is the all too recent horse meat scandal with processed meats in the UK being sold as beef when in fact they contained large amounts of horse meat and the meat itself could not be traced back to source. Quite possibly much of this meat entered the food chain illegally as stolen animals.
When I was in Germany as a teenager I ate horse meat but was not told until afterwards as the family I was staying with believed I would otherwise have refused it. In fact no, I was (and still would be) happy to eat horse meat so long as it was a horse raised for purely for meat in the same way that a cow is raised for beef i.e. it was never a pet or working animal and it was correctly slaughtered and traceable. What I do not want to eat is horse meat labelled as something else not do I want to want any type of meat that is not traceable. It is one of the main reasons we produce our own meat as we then know exactly what we are eating and that the animals have had a good life.
For anyone who might like to try horse meat here are three recipes, taken from a 19th-century French cookbook. Apparently it tastes not unlike beef and is a healthy meat with low amounts of fat.
So would you eat horse meat? Yes or No? I'd love to hear.