Being a frequent globe trotter, I’m always baffled and amused by the great variety of cultural norms, particularly when it comes to diet. For years I traveled to China on business, where I tried out rat meat. Carrie and I love going to Thailand, where it’s not unheard of to eat dog. The French enjoy – as do many European cultures – frogs’ legs, snails and horse. Scandinavians relish fermented herring (not a pleasure I share). Many cultures around the world eat insects, grubs and all manner of meat. But every culture has its taboos. Here in the States, horse is certainly the biggest taboo.
Why don’t we eat horse? It’s nutritious.
Make no mistake. I’m not making an argument in favor of eating horse. I’m simply asking out of curiosity. Why don’t we eat horse? Having a vegetarian son and a semi-vegetarian wife, discussions about sentient beings, animal welfare, and cultural standards are frequent in our household. For example, why do we consider cows to be perfectly acceptable plate fixins’ when they are capable of learning, forming bonds, and are in fact quite intelligent? Sure, perhaps they’re a little less sensitive than horses and they like to stand around (I guess), but that doesn’t seem like a rigorous argument to me at all. We think of horses as pets, but the truth is we have no problem grinding them up for other uses. Horse farming is a booming business. And we all know the old glue jokes. If the thought of horse meat horrifies you, you should know we already produce a whole lot of it – we just sell it overseas, where people think nothing of tucking into a sizzling plate of whinny.
Arguments against horse meat consumption usually include the following:
– Horses have feelings/are advanced animals. And pigs aren’t?
– Horses are traditionally pets or workers. So are many other types of livestock.
– It’s just wrong. Feeling something is wrong doesn’t make it so.
If we can set aside emotions for a moment, let’s ask ourselves why we choose to eat some animals’ flesh and not others. If you agree that animal flesh should be included in the diet (my personal view), why shouldn’t we eat horse? It’s high in protein, low in calories, tasty, and sanctioned by the USDA. I’m an advocate of red meat. I have no problem with saturated fat. Our cells are made of it, after all. Horse meat is one of the most nutritious red meats on the planet. Personally, I’m perfectly happy with my grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild fish. But I guess I like to think about these cultural idiosyncrasies and ask why we follow certain practices so resolutely, when there is little, if any, logical reason to do so.
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