Thursday, February 28, 2013


Judging from the latest news, the consensus in the English speaking world is that it’s permissible to chow down on Ferdinand or Babe the blue ox, but not so much on Flicka or Black Beauty. Elsie’s okay for sliders but Man o’ War isn’t. And let’s not even mention the awful things we do to Porky Pig. How strange, these epicurean preferences…

Now it can be told: I was raised on horse meat. I have kept this tidbit of personal history largely to myself, sharing it only with good friends or squeamish people I wanted to disgust, but it’s true. In the larger cities Post-war France (that’s post WWII), horse meat was regularly eaten by the populace since other forms of protein—beef, pork, poultry or fish—were unavailable. Also, I should add here in the interest of full disclosure, I drank mare’s milk since cow’s milk couldn’t be found. Mare’s milk is thin, watery and greyish blue. It tastes like nothing and has few redeeming qualities save nourishing colts. To the best of my knowledge, it’s not even nutritious enough to make cheese. Oh, before I forget, I’ve also eaten rattlesnake (South Carolina), termites (West Africa), raw fish and octopus (US and Asia), chocolate-covered grasshoppers and ants (imported from Central America), pan-fried worms (Florida), calf brain beignets (France. The thought of those still make me retch), chicken livers (ditto), tongue (ditto cubed) and, while camping in Southern Maryland, very large mosquitoes (accidentally). My late father was once forced to eat sheep’s eyes by Touareg tribal leaders, and there’s a faint possibility that in the late 1800’s, my great-grand-uncle on my mother’s side feasted on someone’s thigh while serving as an attaché in one of France’s African colonies.  If we are indeed what we eat, I shudder to consider my ancestral origins.

In regard to horsemeat, it seems we are guilty of a certain hypocrisy. Not that long ago, North American wild stallions were herded into canyons and culled, often using semi-automatic rifles. We’re perfectly willing to sacrifice equines to feed our animal companions (neither Fluffy nor Rover discriminate, I’m sure), and yet we find it (I can’t resist this) hard to digest eating them ourselves. So let me tell you what I remember…

Horse meat is tough, stringy, grey when cooked, and odiferous. I recollect my mother grilling it in our Parisian kitchen and the smell would spread and linger through every room of the large apartment. It was almost as bad as the rank odor of roasting mutton, another delicacy I was subjected to in childhood.  The Breton maids who lived in the upstairs garrets of the apartment building where I was raised would spend afternoons making sausage, an arduous process that involved pounding the horsemeat with wooden mallets, mincing it and mixing in suet, then adding copious amounts of sea salt and garlic. Was it good? Honestly, I remember it as being just as savory as any $15-a-pound Italian sopressata sold in gourmet stores. At the time, in a country trying to find its post-war footing, horsemeat provided sustenance when little was to be found.

Times are different now, though I can’t quite understand the furor over the horsemeat scandal. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration allows 145 bug parts and 5 rodent hairs per jar of peanut butter and 105 fruit fly eggs in a jar of spaghetti sauce. Also, 20 maggots in a can of mushrooms.  Me, I’d rather eat a horse.




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  2. You have now succeeded in making my squeamish American stomach nauseous. Thanks.