Is Eating Horsemeat Wrong?

Horse Meat: Why So Controversial?

I have nothing against tucking into a delicious steak every now and then. I like it almost rare, and adore the juices and the taste of the meat. I also eat a lot of (organic) chicken, some lamb and to a lesser extent pork, though I love salamis and sausages and other pork products. Oh, all hail the bacon sandwich!

Yes, you could say I was a big meat eater, although I strive to have at least two or three days a week meat free.

But when I was in Belgium recently, I was horrified to see horse meat on the menu. There can’t be any logical reason for this – if I can eat a cow, why not a horse?

horse meat

Image by shu tu

Horse meat supplements the diets of millions of people around the world every year, so why in the U.K. are we so weird about it? I decided to look into the history of eating horse meat, and try and understand where our fears come from.

Where do they eat it?

Eating horse is a culinary tradition in many countries, mostly in Central Asia, but also in parts of South America and Europe too. The top eight countries actually eat over 4.7 million horses a year, which is a lot!

The meat itself is said to be low fat, high protein, super lean and has a tender and sweet flavor, and it has been hunted for its meat since mankind’s early beginnings. Horse and donkey meat was actually eaten in the north of Britain up until the 1930’s – so what happened to make us stop?

The answer lies in both historical and cultural complexities.

Image by jetalone

The Pope and the Pony

We have to go back to the 8th Century and to Pope Gregory III to seek out the religious reasons for this taboo. He instructed St Boniface, who was on a missionary to convert the Germans, that he should make the eating of horse flesh forbidden, as it was previously associated with Germanic pagan rituals.

When they tried to spread the similar message to the Icelanders, they were met with reluctance, but over time they did relent, and finally rejected horse flesh in exchange for Christianity in the year 1000.  (Interestingly, horses are still raised and slaughtered for their meat in Iceland today, so they must have had a change of heart at some point).

eating horsemeat

However, this Roman Catholic prohibition has ensured that the wide consumption of horse meat did not again become as prolific as it had been.

Friendship is Magic

The horse has also sentimental connections to humans, much the same as a dog. Firstly, this was as a working animal. Horses were seen as a show of wealth by land owners and farmers, and they were valuable because of their ability to tow, and they were so fast on their feet as a mode of transport.

They basically had other uses more valuable to men than just eating.  As time went on, the horse became more of a “pet” and we have a conception of the horse as an intelligent creature, and it has gained popularity in modern literature (Black Beauty for example), many films, children’s programs and songs.  Who could imagine eating My Little Pony??! Barbaric!  Friendship is magic my friend.

Let them eat horse

There was also a snobbery around eating horse meat, too. It is seen in some parts of the world as being “what the poor eat”, those who couldn’t afford to eat beef or lamb.  It was also believed that the horse did not convert the grass it eats into meat as well as other animals such as the cow or sheep, so it was not worth the grazing to feed it.

Would you eat horse? Have you eaten it? I would be very interested to know!

Louise Blake is an excited first time mum to be, and spends most of her free time nesting and getting the nursery ready! She works as a design account manager and loves all aspects of architecture and home design. She’s a huge animal lover, and when not out taking her dog for nice long walks, she enjoys blogging for Petmeds and other animal sites.