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I could eat a horse. January 17, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” But most of us assume that refers to the size of the meal we’d like to consume rather than its content. So when I read the headline in today’s Yahoo! News, “Horse meat found in supermarket burgers,” I started shouting for our friend Ben.

“Eeeeewwww!!! Ben, wait ’til you hear this!”

OFB’s response surprised me. “Well, there’s nothing actually wrong with horse meat, is there?” Well, no, actually. The French famously eat horse meat. In this country, it’s used in dog food. Neither the French nor our dogs seem any the worse for the experience.

“It’s because it’s called ‘horse meat’ that people find it repulsive,” Ben continued. “It’s not too appetizing to think of ‘cow meat’ or ‘duck meat’, either.”

This is a point that, as a vegetarian, I’ve thought about a lot. I suspect that other societies are more forthright about what they call their meat, but in the English-speaking world, a sharp linguistic divide separates the live and the cooked. The names of the meats we consume are French in derivation, with their origins in the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The names of the creatures slaughtered for meat are of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Thus we have pigs but eat pork, cows but eat beef, rabbits but eat hare, calves but eat veal, sheep but eat mutton, deer but eat venison. It appears that the need to separate ourselves from our actions didn’t extend to birds and fish, which are typically called the same thing live and cooked, with the possible exception of the euphemism “seafood.” (Another headline in today’s Yahoo! News reported that scientific studies had proved that crabs could actually feel pain. Duh!!! I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to find that out.)

I’ve always been puzzled about why we categorize some animals as appropriate for eating and others as inappropriate. We readily eat cows but not horses (relished in France), wouldn’t consider eating a dog (relished in Korea) or cat (eaten in China), couldn’t imagine slaughtering our pet guinea pigs (a staple food in the Andes) or bunnies (raised for food worldwide). Not to mention the ultimate source of meaty sustenance, people, with their high fat content and abundant muscle and soft, yielding skin, preferred by cannibalistic societies across the globe until global conquest by the Victorians wiped out those foodways.

To take the life of a fellow creature, to try to pretend that it is subhuman and therefore feels no pain as we butcher it or boil it alive or eviscerate and even eat it alive without bothering to kill it first, to separate ourselves from the source of our food, our fellow creatures, is horrific to me. To give the cooked version different names from the live animals that we kill, so we don’t have to think about them as we wolf down our boeuf bourguinon or weinerschnitzel or pate de foie gras, is hypocritical and horrifying, separating us from the acts of murder or actual torture we continually commit or support for our incidental pleasure.

No one needs to kill to enjoy a wide range of delicious and healthful foods. But should you opt for a meat-based diet, please understand what you’re actually eating, and assume responsibility for your fellow creatures dying in agony and unnecessarily for your own indulgent pleasures. Imagine a superior, alien race descending upon Earth and viewing humans as we view, say, bison, a simple source of protein. Imagine being rounded up and slaughtered to provide the aliens with food, despite who and what we are, with every consideration and respect discounted. To be, in short, considered nothing more than a food source. Would you enjoy that?

Please at least think about it.

‘Til next time,




1. Lea - January 17, 2013

Since I’ve been growing my own carrots, I sometimes think how do they feel about being yanked out of the ground, washed, scraped with a knife, and eaten alive.
It seems different with supermarket veggies – someone else has already done that first traumatic act – the yanking out of the ground.
Just a bit of winter madness today. I’ll feel better when the sun shines again.

I think carrots and all plants feel pain too, Lea, and it grieves me to cut their lives (or leaves) short in order to eat them. But I do eat them, because I think it’s the lesser evil and I don’t see myself as a breatharian, living on air. Nonetheless, I try to honor them for their sacrifice and use them as responsibly as possible.

2. Lea - January 17, 2013

Another thought.
I sponsor a child in Peru through Compassion International, a Christian organization that works in poverty striken areas all over the world. Recently my sponsored child wrote to me that her favorite food was guinea pig cooked with potatoes. Was I horrified? No, I was just thankful that she was getting much needed protein in an area where the people do not have the knowledge or resources to eat a completely nutritious vegetarian diet.
For myself, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, with chicken and fish. In a way, I admire someone who can happily and healthfully eat just veggies, but I don’t think I could ever do it.
I enjoy reading your blog very much.
Hope you having a wonderful day without too much snow up there in PA!
Lea’s Menagerie

Hi Lea! Thanks so much for this comment. It points out something I’ve so often emphasized, that we tend to fixate on our own obsessions and forget to look at the larger picture. As you say, sponsoring a child in Peru who is then able to indulge in her favorite foods is far more important than anyone’s vegan imperative. The thing that matters is doing the best we can with what we have to give, rather than imposing our own rigid standards. Yes, I’m vegetarian/vegan, but do I visit the sick or those in prison? Do I volunteer at a soup kitchen or even a food co-op? Do I sponsor a child in Peru, support Heifer International or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity? Do I donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army, my local library, and the like? (Yes to all the latter.) Who am I to condemn anyone at all who reaches out to those less fortunate than themselves? They are doubtless doing greater work than I could ever do. God bless and keep you in your good work!

3. Daphne - January 17, 2013

As you noticed have different names for mammals (well except that horse), but not for chicken or fish. When we eat chicken, we eat chicken. Or goose, or turkey, or salmon. I find that very strange. Why the difference? Are mammals more cute and fuzzy?

My dad was a hunter in his younger years. His philosophy is that if you can’t do the hard part of killing the animal, you shouldn’t be eating it. People are too separated from animal to meat. There isn’t any respect or understanding, but a slab of beef.

This is what I’ve always thought, too, Daphne: If you want to eat meat, take that responsibility, acknowledge the process involved in hunting and killing it, honor it, honor the connection, and eat it with reverence. This is the polar opposite of the drive-by fast-food burger (“Would you like fries with that?”). It honors the connection between the hunter and the hunted.

4. bluemeltwater - January 17, 2013

This is something I’ve also been thinking about a lot since taking up vegetarianism recently. There’s something of a hypocrisy in the attitude of people who will happily eat cow, pigs, but are repulsed by the idea of consuming horses or cats. If they’d be up for eating all animals then fair enough – at least they’re consistent. I agree with everything you put.

Thanks, bluemeltwater, and well put! Peter Greenaway’s controversial film “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” certainly put this in as stark terms as possible when the lover was cooked and served up at supper. It was, of course, meant to shock, and perhaps to motivate people to think about what they’re eating.

5. Huma - January 18, 2013

Well there goes the chicken curry sandwich I was going to make to take on my intense day with Rashu!

I do think I should become completely vegetarian for compassionate and health reasons. Yes even the cilantro we use as garnish is alive!

Quite right, Huma! I’m sure the poor cilantro does feel pain. Perhaps the fruitarians are the only ones who don’t cause pain, since they limit their diets to fruits, berries, seeds, beans, grains, and nuts, the storage chambers of future life rather than living entities themselves. I can certainly see the difference between harvesting a living lettuce and dried rice that is ready to fall from the plant. But sadly, I guess I’m not evolved enough to go for a fruitarian lifestyle and give up my veggies and salads!

6. Fang - January 19, 2013

Silence, I love you. This post of yours wholly and completely echoed my thoughts about the entire matter. I am myself a vegetarian and often think of removing dairy from my diet considering the cruelty that goes on in that industry as well. I agree with almost all thoughts expressed here, especially ones of hypocrisy. Why is it different to eat a dog and a chicken? Heck, what difference does it make if you devour a human, even? Granted, I understand that even I too harm plants, but it is not as bad. Why? Plants at least have a good life before they die (to my knowledge of the way the local produce our family buys is grown) and some of them don’t even have to die or suffer pain to provide us with food. To be a fruitarian would be lovely to me, personally.

To live is to eat life. It is equivalent exchange, as went the famous saying in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist. But should we not look and learn from nature, and then also apply what it means to be human? To practise the virtue of humanity, a virtue that comprehends all virtues? Indeed, as Albert Schwartz has said, “Ehrfurcht vor dem Lebem” – “Reverence for Life”. Respect life, empathize and sympathize with it and automatically you shall do the best you can to live in harmony with all creatures. And isn’t that the long lost peace we look for?

Hi Fang! Thanks so much for your support! And thanks for taking the time to make all these salient points. We are all part of the web of life, interconnected; we are not the spider that preys on others in the web. There is no spider, only connectedness.

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