This may well be one of the most controversial foodie articles you’ll ever read in New Zealand. Guild of Foodwriters member Virgil Evetts reckons we should all be trotting off to eat horse meat… What will the neigh-bours think?
“If you’re going to eat meat, should you really draw distinctions between species? Surely meat is meat is meat. But we do draw distinctions, all of us.
From the get-go our heads are filled with unfathomable rules about which creatures are food and which are pets or vermin. Advocating the consumption of any of the second category is likely to cause outrage, tears and harsh words from anthropomorphising types. Make no mistake though; I’m as bad as the next person in that I love my cat and I love chicken, but never the other way around.
This curious quirk in human nature was well illustrated recently when scores of shoppers howled bloody murder upon finding some horse meat had ‘snuck’ into their cheap frozen lasagne and burger patties. To me, the most interesting part of the whole malarkey was that most ‘victims’ were less concerned about the broader implications of such a ‘blunder’ (a completely untrustworthy industry) than their meagre consumption of horse. Horse! What kind of savages eat horse? A lot of people actually, including me when the opportunity presents itself.
In fact at the risk of courting more vitriol than a cat pogrom-promoting economist, I think we should all be eating horse. Oh, I know it won’t actually happen, and I’m not about to set up a wildly derided website to push the idea whilst going to war against the SPCA, but really, how is it any different to eating lamb or beef? Considering the intelligence and sensitivity of pigs, it seems ethically preferable to eating pork. Not that I’m likely to stop eating pork (although given my beliefs I should).
Admittedly, I’ve never much cared for horses. Too haughty. And horsey people, well, they’re a funny lot, aren’t they? We can all be a bit soft when it comes to our fur-babies, but horsey people are something else, often taking animal husbandry to an uncomfortably literal level.
And while I get the whole cat and dog thing (companionship or ‘something to moan about’, as my father puts it), I can’t fathom the function of horses. They’re status symbols, to be sure, an excuse for private-school girls to gad about in jodhpurs, and a means of parting with vast sums of money, but little else. I suggest that the best horses have to offer these days is their sweet, sweet flesh. Yet around these parts, around most parts actually, we can’t bring ourselves to touch the stuff.
Yet, after cantering off this mortal coil, a good number of horses find themselves bound for the nearest pet food plant. Vast quantities of lean, well-flavoured and iron-dense goodness, rendered grey and gelatinous. And did you know that a small number (about 2000 a year) of ex- racehorses are sent to a specialist slaughterhouse in Gore where they’re expertly butchered for the European restaurant market? None of the meat however is sold here for our consumption.
As a rule, humans have always been a bit funny about eating horse, probably because we became so dependent on them for survival and commerce. Most of the cultures that still eat horsemeat on any kind of regular basis only started doing so with any oomph when there were few other choices. Nomadic horsey types such as the Mongols simply saw it as frugal recycling of animals past their best. In Europe, horsemeat gained popularity/ grudging acceptance during the two world wars when other sources of meat dried up, but today, in most regions of Europe and Asia, horse is very much a niche meat, sold from specialist butchers to a dwindling market. Interestingly, though, horse is very popular in the Kingdom of Tonga, where it was introduced to the locals by early missionaries.
Surprisingly, horsemeat is often very tender and despite being quite the reddest of red meats, it has a mild flavour, not unlike farmed venison. The best horse product I’ve tried was a firm and fragrant salami, the house specialty of a horse butchery I happened upon in Parma, Italy. It was flavoured with Barolo and studded with sweet, diaphanous pork fat – really quite wonderful stuff.
A lot of you won’t like me much right now. Fair enough, too, I suppose. But as the world grows hungrier and the luxury of waste loses all viability, will we still be so precious?”