Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.
February 27, 2013 at 6:02 AM
Civil Disagreement: Horse meat
Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is an occasional feature of the Opinion Northwest blog. Today they chew the fat on horse meat.
Bruce Ramsey: Lynne, You ask my opinion of horse meat. I can’t give you an informed opinion on it. I’ve had deer, bear, caribou, zebra, ostrich and snake. The snake was in soup, in Hong Kong, where snake soup is considered a body-warming food in cold weather. The soup was rich and delicious. The bear and caribou were too gamy. Save it for the hunters. The zebra was about as satisfying as chewing on a bicycle tire, but then, I ate it in a Tanzanian village with no paved roads and probably no refrigeration either. I put it at the bottom, but I’m probably being unfair to the zebra. The ostrich was even chewier than the zebra, but it was South African biltong, and was supposed to be that way.
I asked for dog once, about 25 years ago, in a restaurant in Macau, where I was feeling adventurous. I’d never owned a dog, and the idea didn’t bother me. They said dog as a menu item was illegal, and I’d have to go into China for it. But if I wanted a cat, they had one outside, all ready to butcher. It was a bobcat or civet cat that had been captured in the wild. I like cats. I’d owned a cat. I looked at this wild cat and he looked back at me. “Naw,” I said. “Let’s just have chicken.”
Horse I don’t know. There is a taboo about horsemeat in American culture, but I don’t share it. I’ve just never eaten it, that I know of. The Wikipedia entry on horse meat says it is “slightly sweet, tender and low in fat” and that it tastes something between beef and venison. That could be good. I have seen the photos of horse meat in our story in The Times: a German sausage counter. Now, German food includes some stuff weird to Americans, like blood sausage and head cheese, or the goose grease (schmaltz) that Germans spread on black bread, but some of that traditional stuff is pretty good. I’ve never eaten anything from a German sausage counter that was bad. I’ll bet pferdewurst tastes all right–and with mustard, black bread and a stein of pilsner, probably better than all right. Unfortunately, I think we’d have to go to Germany to get it.
Lynne Varner: Bruce, in Japan they serve horse meat sashimi style. Not that equine cuisine is likely to catch on here. You are right, there is a cultural taboo among Americans about horsemeat and this New York Times article delves into why. Perhaps it is fear of the unknown. Judging by the food found to contain horsemeat – lasagna, meatballs etc. – some have been eating it all along and if they discovered anything it is that horsemeat tastes like beef. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture says strict labeling and inspection standards on imported meats creates a reliable barrier for horse meat.
We can only hope.
I”m not sure where the American aversion to horsemeat comes from. It is not present with other animals that make up our carnivorous diet, for example pigs or cows. And yet there is little difference between a cow and a horse. From an evolutionary standpoint, horses were our beasts of burden and maybe we learned not to eat them because we would need them for plowing the field or riding into battle.
But it is also about the important principle of truth in advertising. To misquote rap star Eminem, it is whatever I say it is. (Which ought to be the truth.)
There is also the health risk. This story out of England is about fears that painkillers, growth hormones and other medications given to horses could harm the people eating them.
Horse meat jokes abound on Twitter. Here’s one. True beef, or not true beef, that is equestrian.
Bruce Ramsey: I think we agree on the main question: Horse meat should not be sold if it is unsafe or labeled as something else. Other than that, I don’t care, and I am not going to read the label on the bag of meatballs in my freezer. I’ve eaten some already, and they’re good.