Horse, Not What’s for Dinner in the UK
Horse DNA was recently found in ground beef across the UK, and the British are none too happy about it. In fact, many are repulsed by the idea of eating horse. Horse meat is viewed as a delicacy in countries like France, Belgium, parts of South America, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations, but it has not caught on in the UK.
In an article from BBC Magazine, ‘Why are the British revolted by the idea of horsemeat?’, Dr. Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist says that “people frequently see horses as pets, and humans tend to put ‘extra qualities and values’ on animals they call pets.” Horses are also thought of as working animals. Throughout history they’ve provided transportation, labor and are often depicted sentimentally as a ‘noble steed’ and assistants during times of war. In contrast, Brits and other Westerners view chickens, cows and pigs more simplistically as food (cows, for example, are not seen as food by Hindus, but are revered and sacred).
More interestingly, food historian Dr. Annie Gray believes the British accentuate their dislike for horsemeat to differentiate themselves from the French. She thinks that, “beef has long been symbolic of Englishness and therefore anything we can do or say to put British beef on a pedestal is usually done – ergo the thought that the French eat horse while we eat good beef becomes a chauvinistic way of asserting national identity.”
Horsemeat is actually a healthy alternative to beef: very lean, palatable flavor, similar to venison, plentiful and reasonably priced. In an interview conducted by The Guardian, ‘Would you eat horsemeat?’ restaurateur Fred Berkmiller of L’Escargot Bleu in Edinburgh stated that he’s “been serving horse for about two and a half years and demand for it is high.” The key to having horsemeat viewed as an attractive option, according to Berkmiller, is educating the consumer.
This reminds me of the use of dog meat in parts of Asia, and the way it’s viewed in the West as a primitive and odd practice – again, the example serves as a way to differentiate one group from another. The delicacy / vulgarity dichotomy is an interesting one. What do you hold precious and dear that someone from afar would find repugnant?
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