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Horse; it's what's for dinner?

Updated on May 28, 2013

So hungry you could eat a horse?

From the earliest age of mankind, horses were hunted as a source of protein. Through the ages the horse has been domesticated, becoming first a stock animal for food, a work animal for labor and warfare, and finally a companion animal. In the last 100 years the horse has achieved pet status and due in part to our new attachment to the horse as a pet and a great deal to the role that the media has played in forming our opinion of the horse, there is an aversion now to consuming horse meat despite thousands of years of doing so in the past.

Even a papal ban on the eating of horse meat in 732AD did not stop its consumption, but the power of the silver screen, the small screen and now the internet have definitely had a substantial impact. However, many people around the world still eat horse meat not merely as a delicacy but as a regular item in their diet. From the Americas to Europe to the far east, horse was and is a not only acceptable source of protein but a much desired one as well.

Domesticated horses and cattle did not exist in the Americas until the conquistadors who owed much of their success to their horses. The Europeans' horses became feral and were hunted by the indigenous Pehueche people of what is now Chile and Argentina. The meat was, and still is, preserved by being sun dried into a product known as charqui.

The French developed their great and lasting taste for horse meat during the revolution. While some had always eaten horse meat on a semi regular basis, the general populace, especially those in cities and large towns had not acquired a taste for the sweet lean meat. the hard and dire times of the revolution brought horse meat to the soup pot of peasant and aristocrat alike, and the affection for it out lasted the French passion for the guillotine.

Horse as well as donkey are eaten in china to this day, with china being the leading consumer of horse and donkey meat world wide. While it is considered a delicacy in Japan, horse and donkey constitue a substantial share of the average Chinese protein intake. The preparations are wide and varied but most if not nearly all are the same as for beef.

In the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and their neighboring countries, horse is found in the deli as a thin smoked meat or a special sausage, and is prepared in other dishes that might otherwise be made with beef.

Italy is the birthplace of the famed or infamous Carpaccio dish of raw meat marinated in lemon and drizzled with olive oil, but also has a long standing and general apatite for horse meat, with butcher shops there specializing in it.

In some of the Nordic countries of pre-Christian Europe, eating a horse was seen as decadent, a display of wealth. Sacrificing a horse to the Norse gods would have been seen as enormously opulent. When these areas embraced Christianity the eating of horses became taboo. Not because they treasured the animals as companions or symbols of freedom and beauty but because it was seen as a pagan practice and was therefore condemned by the church as a heresy.

Recent history of horse meat in the US

Up to the late 20’s and early 30’s horse meat was a niche market and eaten with some regularity in the US among segments of the immigrant population bringing the taste for it with them from their homelands. The horse could be sold to slaughter for dog food, but if the animal was of no working value then it had little value, bringing perhaps 5-10$ even at slaughter.

When the great depression hit, the federal government in its infinite wisdom slaughtered thousands of cattle pigs and sheep based on the idea that an over supply was the cause for their poor market price. In reality, the country as a whole was in such dire financial straights that many could not afford to buy meat,… it was NOT an over supply of meat animals that broke the live stock markets of the time,… it was an UNDER supply of money on the part of the regular consumer.

Consequently, the nation shortly found itself with substantially less meat on the hoof entering WW2. With troops to feed across the globe and a nation to feed at home, horses were an acceptable protein source. Live stock reports from the early 40’s stated that "We are eating 1,500 horses a day here in Los Angeles, and it doesn't look like it is going to taper off much when the War is over."

It was a tumultuous time for the horse in the US as it was across the globe during WW2. While some European nations were still using horses in their war efforts, grinding their equine population to bits on the battle fields of Europe, the US had almost completely mechanized its force leaving thousands of horses standing idle in the states. Coupled with the advent of mechanized farming, it could have spelled doom for the American horse, especially many of the heavy draft breeds. But the earlier idea of destroying excess live stock in order to drive up the market price actually had an un intended dividend,…. It saved the American horse market.

With horses being sold for human consumption it caused them to fall under US humane slaughter laws, and it gave a market value to the horse that it didn’t previously have. Now that horses had a monetary value they would be better taken care of and no longer left to starve or fend for themselves.

Horse meat enjoyed popularity in the states beyond its war time consumption up through the 80’s and 90’s as the Harvard menu suggests,… horse steak being an entrée offered. it’s a shame for both the horse and we as Americans that media and the E-universe has soured our taste for horse.

So you see, horse meat may be taboo, but not for the years or reasons that you might have thought.

The horse industry and the slaughter market

The government accounting office (GAO) reported that following the (effective) ban on horse slaughter in the US, the number of horses exported for slaughter to Mexico had increased 660% between 2006-2010 and that exports of horses for slaughter to Canada had risen 148% in the same period. The conclusion of the report was that just as many US horses were being sold to slaughter as before but they were being shipped to Canada and Mexico to do it.

Not only was the number of US horses being sold to the killers no different than before, but those selling them were receiving significantly less for their animals because shipping costs were now being figured in to the equation, thereby driving down the overall prices of horses nation wide. The equine industry was devastated, and the misery had only just begun.

With record low prices in the horse market, people who had never owned a horse but had always wanted one now found themselves in the market for their dream pony. Having never cared for anything larger than the Dalmatian dog they had gotten after the Disney movie was re-released, they raced out to the auction houses to “rescue” a horse, bringing it back to their 2.5 acre place just off the subdivision outside of town. While sales of “horses for dummies” sky rocketed along with pretty matching tack kits and ribbons for manes and tails, the horses demise was a train wreck in progress.

Soon came the news stories of abandoned horses, those left to fend for themselves after the market bottomed out and the owners hadn’t the heart to just shoot them. They would be “rescued” and adopted out to new owners who would take care of them. Next were the stories of the man and woman who took in two horses because the owner couldn’t keep them any more only for word to get out and suddenly find themselves caring for 30-40 horses. Then the news camera would catch the tearful pleas as the HSUS came to take them away,… “we couldn’t turn them away, but were going bankrupt trying to feed them,.. We didn’t know who else to call”

So now, the (effective) ban on horse slaughter has been lifted by the president signing the bill that fully funds the inspection of equine slaughter facilities in the US,… and those who have learned nothing from the last 6 years are once again crying foul and pounding their chests. The same folks who lecture the country bumpkin to “grow up culturally” could learn a lot from some of the cultures they claim so often to admire.

a butcher shop in italy specializing in horse
a butcher shop in italy specializing in horse

Monetizing the equine to the American plate

Perhaps if Americans did indeed grow up culturally we might embrace more eagerly our culinary heritage rather than letting Hollywood anthropomorphize our dinner to the point that we’re living off of pieta bread and bean sprouts.

The American cattle industry feeds not only the US carnivore but the world as well. We run the safest and most efficient meat production market in the world. Our chickens, turkeys, pigs and their bi-products provide the protein needs of a great portion of the planet. It should be noted that because of the monetary value of these animals they are regarded as valuable property and treated as such. Its is their monetary value first and their intrinsic value second that secure their protection and proper supervision. Let us give back to the horse not just the intrinsic value that he has in our hearts, but also the monetary value that he so desperately needs in our market place. Let us not only restore the slaughter market to the US economy but also embrace the horse on our dinner plate once more so that we might pay full tribute to his beautiful form and function together with our own.

in italy this a acceptable,.... why not here
in italy this a acceptable,.... why not here

The classic recipe you might want to try; Carpaccio

The original version of this dish is said to originate in Venice where it was first served to the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in 1950 when she informed a famous bar owner that her doctor had recommended she eat only raw meat. being a noteworthy customer he catered to her needs and a world famous dish was born. It consisted of thin slices of raw beef dressed with a mustard and mayonnaise sauce, but is often made of horse in Europe where horse meat is consumed regularly in countries such as France and Italy. The dish was named Carpaccio by Giuseppe Cipriani, the bar’s former owner, in reference to the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, because the colors of the dish reminded him of paintings by Carpaccio. This lighter version is far more common nowadays.

Beef, veal or horse fillet, sliced very thinly

Lemon juice

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Aromatic herbs, chopped – optional

Parmesan cheese shaved – optional

Green salad leaves, optional

Marinated Portobello or button mushrooms

Marinate the meat in the lemon juice for around an hour.

Remove from the marinade and arrange on a serving plate.

Season with salt and pepper and dress with olive oil.

variation: Add some chopped aromatic herbs (parsley, basil, mint etc.) to the marinade.

Variation: Top with shaved Parmesan

Variation: you may like to serve the carpaccio on top of some green salad leaves,

variation: you can serve this with marinated mushrooms on the side.

it's your turn,.... chime in!

would you ever eat horse meat?

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