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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,