Is it really so bad to eat horse meat?

Josh Clark

Ikea is the latest company to tumble down the dark pit of international bad publicity when it was revealed recently that horse meat was found as an ingredient in their delicious meatballs. Horse meat: Yick. Am I right? Right?

Why, exactly, is it so disgusting, the thought of eating horse? We eat just about everything else that moves around on land. Look at cows, they're like fat, slow horses and we eat them with no troubles. Why you've probably eaten a cheeseburger in front of a cow before and thought not the least of it. We eat pigs, they're like pink, stocky horses kind of. Why shouldn't we feel bad about eating them?

Vegans and vegetarians stifling screams with your hands raised in the front row, I hear you and see you. I'm not really speaking to you about this as you don't eat any animal. But you meat eaters, why is it so bad to eat horse when we eat so many other animals horses share the barn yard with? Is the answer really so basic -- that it's because we ride horses? That's pretty much all that separates them and the many other animals with faces that we still eat with no problems.

Here in the U.S., horses hold a special place in our hearts, but it is a hypocritical one. It is legal to slaughter horses for their meat here, and even during the recent period when it wasn't legal to slaughter horses here in the U.S., it was still technically legal to operate a horse slaughterhouse, Congress simply withheld the funding for the USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses. Without inspection of your meat, you couldn't send the finished product out the door and so it was illegal by proxy to slaughter horses for meat here. During that period the bubble created around the thoroughbred horse industry burst and a lot of unwanted horses were sent to slaughter, just not here. They were sent to Canada. Now the funding is back again for the slaughterhouses here in the U.S.

Here we will slaughter horses, but we just won't eat them. Instead, we just sell the meat to other countries that eat horse: Japan, where thinly-sliced raw horse is served as a sushi called basahi; France, where viande le cheval is often prepared as a steak; China, where it's dried into a jerky; Belgium, where it's a part of the national diet, etc., etc.

What's interesting is that a lot of the countries that are expressing outrage at the horse meat scandal that is spreading across Europe eat horse meat as a matter of course. What is at issue here, and this I understand the most, is that the food manufacturers didn't say there was horse meat in the food they were selling. And duping your customers, especially when you're selling them food, that's a global taboo.