True story: I was mostly vegetarian (technically pescetarian) for 11 years. Then I moved to Sardinia to be a nanny for an Italian family. After a few weeks of not eating any meat, I started to feel bad about the fact that the family always had to make a different dish for me, so I abandoned my vegetarianism. The first piece of meat that I tucked into was a tough little hockey puck with some garlic and butter on top. I figured it was over-cooked beef until, after polishing it off, the father of the family asked me if I enjoyed the cavallo.
He said, yes, the cavllo with the butter and the garlic.
I realized I had just eaten Black Beauty.
Since then, I’ve eaten rat, pigeon, duck heads, bull penis, fried ants, fresh ants, and a wide variety of other unusual meats and sorta-meats. Horse doesn’t sound all that exotic anymore, but it was an interesting way to plunge back into the omnivore world. And horse is a relatively common thing to eat in some parts of Europe and a few other places.
But apparently lots of folks in the United States don’t want Seabiscuit biscuits. The restaurant M. Wells had horse tartare on the menu, and folks freaked. There was the inevitable Change.org petition complete with major factual flaws and a bunch of ALLCAPS!!!! comments. To avoid controversy, the restaurant took horse off the menu, and issued the following statement:
Horsemeat is off the menu at the Dinette and it is not likely to return. We took it off because it upset so many people, which truly surprised us. That is not the effect we look for in our food, so away it goes.
We thought about serving it because we like to offer customers new things. We get tired of beef-chicken-pork all the time and we assume diners do, too. Whatever else horses are – draft animals, companions, transport – their meat is also delicious and affordable. In Quebec, where our chef is from, the presence of horse on a menu is unremarkable. Canada is far from the only culture where eating horse does not rise to the level of taboo.
Here in New York the law is ambiguous. We received contradictory opinions from two different government agencies with overlapping jurisdiction. All we can say with certainty is that the law appears to be in flux.
Public opinion here is split, too. Last summer, at a food festival in Brooklyn, we sold over 5,000 horse bologna foie gras grilled cheese sandwiches to many happy New Yorkers. Nevertheless, scandalizing animal lovers is not what we want to be famous for. It was certainly not our intent to insult American culture. However, it must be said, part of living in a city like New York means learning to tolerate different customs. If our critics can forgive us, we invite them in for a drink and a bite of whatever animal they do consume (if any). At any rate, we cry uncle.
I love horses as much as the next girl who was ever an elementary school Horse Girl. I even rode them when I was younger (RIP Coco Jean). And I do understand that we get squicked out when we blur the lines between animals we eat and animals we keep as pets and companions (I probably would not be particularly enthusiastic about eating dog or cat, even though I regularly eat cows and pigs and even though there are places where eating dogs and cats is unremarkable). But since M. Well is serving cow, pig and chicken without protest, it seems a little silly to get infuriated about horse. I don’t like the idea of killing horses, because I personally like horses a lot more than I like cows, chickens or pigs. But that’s not much of an argument.