Why Did Eating Horsemeat Become Taboo?

Kevin Kampwirth writes at Mental Floss:

When news broke earlier this year that a spate of European supermarkets had been selling frozen beef products adulterated with horsemeat, a large portion of the Western world collectively wretched. A couple of the products in question—frozen hamburger patties and beef lasagna—showed horse DNA at levels ranging from trace amounts up to 100 percent, and were quickly pulled from freezer cases as the slaughterhouses of origin were investigated. The plot thickened this week after inspectors in the Czech Republic reported that samples from Ikea’s voraciously consumed meatballs turned up evidence of horse DNA, prompting the Swedish mega-retailer to halt sales of its marquee offering in 14 European countries.

As EU authorities try to make sense of the scandal and call for stricter oversight of Europe’s notoriously unregulated meatpacking industry, millions of people around the world are likely wondering what the big fuss is. Despite the notion of horses as pets and companions, horsemeat is widely and willingly consumed in countries ranging from Mexico to China to Italy. So how, exactly, did eating horsemeat become taboo for the rest of us?

NEIGH IT AIN’T SO

Humans have been hunting and eating wild horses since the end of the last ice age and, along with reindeer, the meat provided a vital source of protein. As early as 4000 BCE, however, fossil records indicate the beginning of equine domestication, which likely also marks the initial shift in the way that people thought about horses. One of the earliest public excoriations of horsemeat consumption came from the Vatican in 732, when Pope Gregory III issued a ban on the practice, hoping to distance the church from what it considered a pagan predilection. Even still, horsemeat remained a dietary staple in many parts of the world, especially Europe, with both France and Germany openly bucking the papal decree in the nineteenth century.

The church’s stance undoubtedly had a lasting impact on public perception, though, and likely accounts for at least some of the broad aversion in English-speaking countries like the US, England, Ireland, Australia, and some parts of Canada. Observant Jews are also unable to eat horsemeat because, as neither a ruminant nor a cloven-hoofed animal, it isn’t kosher. Psychologically, as horses assumed the familiar role of companions in battle and work, the idea of eating one must have become increasingly off-putting. And, although eaten by people of all classes throughout history, many cultures now associate horsemeat with penury—a last resort when beef and pork are unaffordable. The practice has never taken hold in America, but, up until 2007 when the nation’s last horse abattoir was shuttered in Illinois, thousands of horses were slaughtered and processed here annually for export.

Read more here.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Wallach/533280349 John Wallach

    There’s no “W” in retched.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Wallach/533280349 John Wallach

    There’s no “W” in retched.

    • http://twitter.com/RayButlers Ray Butlers

      Between 2001 and 2009 there was!

    • http://twitter.com/RayButlers Ray Butlers

      Between 2001 and 2009 there was!

  • BuzzCoastin

    I was living in France back in the daze and
    an American friend of mine went out to buy some hamburger & try out his French.
    He came back and said,
    “Interesting butcher shop that. The place had lots of pictures of horses everywhere.
    The guy must really like horses!”

    That night we had our first horse burgers.
    But everyone in China knows donkey tastes way better than horse.
    Old Chinese saying:
    The best meat in Heaven is Dragon, but on Earth it’s Donkey!

    • Eric_D_Read

      How was it? I’ve eaten a lot of different critters, but never horse (as far as I know). It still seemed odd to me that people would make that much of a stink over it.

    • Eric_D_Read

      How was it? I’ve eaten a lot of different critters, but never horse (as far as I know). It still seemed odd to me that people would make that much of a stink over it.

      • BuzzCoastin

        of all the exotic protein that I’ve consumed over the years
        horse, donkey, snake, rat, fried insects
        all of which have interesting flavors & textures
        but nothing beats a hamburger with American chemical-fed beef
        I eat a hamburger once a year to remind me of home
        I had my first donkey burger in Beijing on the 4th of July 2010

        Oh & BTW: all those exotic proteins are in every American hot dog

      • BuzzCoastin

        of all the exotic protein that I’ve consumed over the years
        horse, donkey, snake, rat, fried insects
        all of which have interesting flavors & textures
        but nothing beats a hamburger with American chemical-fed beef
        I eat a hamburger once a year to remind me of home
        I had my first donkey burger in Beijing on the 4th of July 2010

        Oh & BTW: all those exotic proteins are in every American hot dog

        • ishmael2009

          What does snake taste like then?

          • BuzzCoastin

            you know the old joke, tastes like chicken
            but I had it in Cambodia, where Thursday is snake night
            and it had a hot sauce and a firm, slightly chewy texture
            my host told me that it increases “boom-boom power”
            and would I like a lady to go with my snake?

            Apsara danced the dance that stirred the Milky Ocean, they say

  • ishmael2009

    *retched not “wretched”. Does anyone even proof read these articles?

    • Matt Staggs

      No idea what they do at Mental Floss. The error is their own.

  • Malk

    I can name at least three restaurants within a ten minute walk from my house that serve raw horse meat?? I live in Nagano, Japan. It’s a normal dish? Get over it. Meat is Meat, you either dead animals or don’t, cows chickens and pigs aren’t any prettier.

    I didn’t read the article though.. what are we talking about? ヽ(´ー`)┌

  • follow_the_piper

    Her in good ole middle of Europe it’s a normal thing. There are special butchers that specialize in horse meat. It’s tasty and comes sausages, meat pastries (“Leberkäse”) and the like.
    But in western Austria and Switzerland they used to eat Dogs and there are still recipies around on how to cook hedgehogs ;)

  • follow_the_piper

    Her in good ole middle of Europe it’s a normal thing. There are special butchers that specialize in horse meat. It’s tasty and comes sausages, meat pastries (“Leberkäse”) and the like.
    But in western Austria and Switzerland they used to eat Dogs and there are still recipies around on how to cook hedgehogs ;)

  • Organic Farmer
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