Question of the week: Would you eat horse meat?


Horse meat. It’s taboo for me. But what about you? (iStockphoto)

Horse meat has reared it’s ugly head again in the press, with news of equine flesh being substituted for beef on a number of European food production lines. The surreptitious switching of meat is a despicable act, but what if you knew you were being served horse meat. Would you eat it? 

I grew up a hop, skip and a gymkhana jump away from a riding stables and rode weekly from the age of 4-17. One of my earliest memories is not being able to find Rum — the short, stocky, black shetland pony — who was to be my ride one Sunday morning. He was the smallest of all the shetlands, and also distinguishable by the bright red girths that strapped the saddle to his broad back. But for whatever reason, i couldn’t find him  in the cobble-stoned courtyard where dozens of ponies were tethered awaiting their allocated riders. So i burst into tears. Over the years, i moved on from Rum, to Sid, and Billy, then William a placid, ginger-haired pony i adored. By the end of my horse-riding hobbyist days — when a boyfriend and pub crawling became more interesting — i was riding Zelda, a flighty, dappled grey mare I had no control over whatsoever. She’d throw me off her back several times a session. Relishing the challenge, I always jumped straight back on.

My English summers were spent happily mucking out stables, polishing saddles and cantering around nearby woodlands and hills. So no, i wouldn’t eat horse meat. It’d be like ripping the heart out of my childhood and throwing it on a sizzling hot charcoal grill, or like tearing the spine out of the Pony Club paperbacks i read voraciously (yearning to be the 14-year old heroine who was usually called something like Sabrina and who had a palomino pony called something like Sybil), and throwing the pages in the air.

But that’s just me. What about you? Are you a horse lover,  a galloping gastronome with a taste for the unusual/bizarre, or is horse meat a cultural norm for you?

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Filed under Food Issues, Produce

31 responses to “Question of the week: Would you eat horse meat?

  1. Like you, I was raised around horses and couldn’t consider ever eating one. However, I know of the extraordinary amount of horses that are put down each day and it seems crazy for that meat to be wasted for those that would eat it.

    On a side note, my sister also grew up riding horses since she could walk. Whilst on exchange in Belgium, as an expensive treat for her birthday she was dished up foal tartare.

    Needless to say, she didn’t touch it.

    • A good point about waste – but i still couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I certainly have nothing against other people eating horse meat, however – each to their own, and all that! And your poor sister – i imagine she gagged her way out of the restaurant! Foal tartare – what a horrible thought…

  2. Eha

    Having been ‘knee-high-to-a-grasshopper’ in post WWII desolate Europe I am certain I have eaten horseflesh many a time without being aware of it : I am still here! Have I eaten it in Oz: no! Would I choose it as a preferred protein: no! My daughters too have been horse-crazy in their teenage years . . . and there simply was no need! Would I eat it again if the circumstances led me to it: yes, of course! It would probably be one of the most delightful ‘gameish’ meats available’! Meanwhile I’ll enjoy kangaroo :) !

    • You’re very right, Eha, when you say there is no need (in Australia, in this day and age, at least). But as you also point out, what if there was a need — a desperate need? I’m sure i’d eat just anything if my life depended on it.

      • Eha

        OK: methinks it was my comparison re kangaroo which made a few people comment? I live semi-rurally near Sydney and have four quite ordinary [sorry guys!] supermarkets within a 7-9 km radius. Each of them stocks kangaroo all the time. It is probably the healthiest protein we can eat, as it was raised ‘on the hoof’ and is very lean. Grilled rare I find it absolutely delicious. ‘Skippy’ is not quite as delightful a personage as many think: the male are culled in nightime quite humane shoots where needed. Its meat does not cost as anywhere as much as bringing up a cow! In my mind I cannot see a problem: methinks we are lucky!!

  3. I wouldn’t eat horse meat but I don’t have a problem with people who choose to. We are very bound by our cultural mores, kangaroo meat isn’t really that popular here because for many people it conjures up images of Skippy and the thought of eating one of our national emblems is problematic. The Russians however really like it. The same for dog meat and it’s popularity in Asian countries but here the thought is probably worse than eating horse meat. I’m more than happy to watch the local horses gallop around the showgrounds rather than being on my plate.

    • Agreed, Julia – i have nothing against other people who choose to eat horse meat. I respect other people’s dietary decisions. Cultural mores have moulded us into who we are. And you’re right about kangaroo being a hard sell here in Australia. I’ve eaten it rarely – but mostly because you just don’t see it on menus very often and there’s little on display in supermarkets. I don’t really have a problem with eating skippy but having doted on horses since being a child, i doubt i’d every willingly let horse flesh past my lips. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. I found myself turning down horse sashimi when I was last in Singapore. Mind you, if it was cooked, I might have thought about it. But I’d like to have the health and hygiene questions answered first…

    • At least you knew what it was … as is often the case when travelling in foreign climes we don’t know what’s put before us and what we’re chewing on! And for some bizarre reason i’d rather eat horse sashimi than cooked horse meat … if my life depended on it, that is!

  5. Mel

    Where I lived in Italy eating horse was a fairly standard practice (in the North east). On more than one occasion I ordered it from horse floss on salad, horse carpaccio to horse burgers. I knew what it was when ordering and therefor had no issue.

    I think that it is odd to deceive people and mix horse in… However people quite happily eat sausages for instance which can be a mix of meats without wondering what in them….

    Horse when prepared well is a lean, gamey meat and as per cattle, sheep and pigs these horses are most often bred for meat consumption… They aren’t race horses put out to pasture.

    As long as I know what I’m eating there isn’t much I wouldn’t try.

    • Great response, Mel. And you’ve opened a whole new can of worms — what exactly is in those sausages we’re eating?!! For some reason it seems worse to me that they’re bred for meat consumption … though the thought of chewing on a cut of meat from a beast that has been sent to the knackers yard is not a very nice idea, either!

  6. I’ve eaten horse. Once to my knowledge. It was in a restaurant in Alice Springs. That night I ate camel, buffalo, emu, and a variety of sea food.

    • I’ve eaten a variety of seafood … but haven’t eaten anything else that was on your Alice Springs restaurant menu! Not that i know of anyway. I have no issue eating buffalo, emu or camel – just haven’t been in the right place, at the right time!

  7. Firstly, the pic cracked me up, Rachel and I simply MUST share it. And to answer your question, I can recall my father talking about eating horse meat in Hungary, perhaps during the week. Have I eaten it? Hmmm, possibly, given all that’s now coming to light. Would I want to? Not sure, I am not so keen on very strong meat, even ‘roo. But, hey, I’ve eaten camel.

    • The photo is an iStockphoto shot – so i can’t take credit, but i love it too. So what does camel taste like? I’ve never had the opportunity, but would be happy to try it. Just couldn’t go down the horse meat path – or paddock!

  8. I’ve tried donkey before (boyfriend bought a burger/sandwich thing when we traveled in China), so I imagine horse wouldn’t be too different. Dare I say, it was quite tasty…

  9. I too was a pony mad girl but I’d eat horse meat so long as it was an informed choice ie not described as beef. It must taste good as it seems plenty of people were happily eating burgers made from 100% horse meat with no complaint though maybe the expectations of anyone paying an unrealistically low price for economy beefburgers may not be that high.

    • Pony mad days … how i look back on them with fondness. But you’re right about the importance of informed choice … i wouldn’t want to find out i’d been eating horse meat burgers instead of beef burgers. I suppose that’s the advantage of making them by hand … i’ve done so for years, and this sort of scandal only serves to reinforce that it’s a good move!

  10. Cat

    I agree with Mel – as long as I know what it is and can make my own decision about it, I will give most things a try. I love horse meat and have it every time I travel to Europe and I really love it. I think this really boils down to Australians having grown up with horses as a revered animal – as a pet, working horse or icon. Similarly we have limited sheep food products here in comparison to Europe. In Europe the sheep is used more for its milk whereas we perceive sheep to be for wool first, as an icon second and then for its milk. But I digress …
    In answer to your question, yes I would and do knowingly eat horse meat. I really enjoy it and provided like all raw foods it is bought or eaten at a reputable place, then it is delicious and highly nutritious.
    And it is low in fat. Get some horse for second course?

    • You raised an interesting point: the healthiness of horse meat. I must admit it wouldn’t convince me to eat it, but i guess it’s important to factor in more healthy meat where possible. I know the same is said for kangaroo meat — that it is very lean, and better for you. But Australia’s general lack of appetite for kangaroo meat does have a lot to do with its iconic status here. And as you as you say, horses are a revered animal — often because we had them with pets — or for their working-animal status. Maybe, in general, we consider horses individually rather than faceless herds bred for eating. Love your last line: get some horse for a second course! No thanks, but i have no objection to you doing so!

  11. I ate horse meat in Italy many years ago as a 10-year-old – not knowingly. Like the writer above I come from north-eastern Italy and it’s quite common there. I do wish that they’d told me before I’d eaten it though. As a young child brought up on National Velvet (the film and the TB series) I felt a little sick picturing my schnitzel being ridden by Elizabeth Taylor.

    • I feel your pain! I had the same problem when i was tricked into eating rabbit by my parents as a child — i was more put out because i’d hoodwinked, although i wasn’t too pleased about having just eaten a bunny. I remember feeling really cheated … and also the butt of a joke. (Loved the film National Velvet was i was a kid!)

  12. No, I wouldn’t eat horse meat, but I also don’t eat rabbit, venison, kangaroo, crocodile, ostrich, etc. These types of meat are too exotic for me! If I was deceived into eating horse meat, I would be pretty upset, mostly because we place so much trust into those who prepare our meals for us or the labelling of products. I’m already quite wary of eating processed food!

    • The first time i ever ate rabbit — when i was a child, aged about 8 — i was tricked into it by my parents. They said it was chicken. I remember feeling really sore about it … not just because i was eating a bunny but because i’d been deceived into eating something i wouldn’t have chosen to eat. I have no problem eating rabbit today — i love it. However, i’d have the same issue with being tricked into eating something.

  13. i wouldn’t eat horse (but then i don’t eat beef, chicken, pork or lamb any more either, only fish and seafood. oh, and fiery chorizo. i’m not claiming to be logical). i think most people like to know what they are eating, and how it is reared, so they can choose. it is inetrestign that youre readers have said how healthy/nutritious it is. i wonder how cheap horse is , as budgeting affects many people’s decisions (as well as cultural influences).

  14. There was a very interesting article on the age website (which i can’t find the link for). It talks about a place that tried putting horse on the menu (here in Victoria, Australia) and got shouted down. However, there are still a few places that serve horse meat (in Australia) that isn’t marketed. The places that do serve horse meat take horses due for the knackery and farm them for approx 6 months, getting them ready for eating.

    For reference, the numbers of horses put down each year is whatever number you are thinking x 10.

    • It’s interesting that there is this horse meat market in Australia that we hardly hear about – for obvious reasons. I think i remember the piece in the Age that you mentioned … and the uproar over horse meat sales. I have no problem with other people eating it, cooking it, supplying it – just don’t want to fuel the industry myself. Thanks for your comments.

  15. Horse is delicious, as is donkey. I’ve had both in Asia and horse back home in the US. Both meats are sweet and tender and are enjoyed willingly by millions. The problem with the European scandals is that horse was substituted for other types of meat. Some people think of horses as friends not food – as evidenced in your comments.

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