The current scandal in Europe over the discovery of horsemeat in beef lasagna products reminded commentator Diane Brown of an incident at a restaurant in Switzerland a few years ago.
Chalk it up to my inability to read French. Little did I know that “cheval” means “horse,” which my husband pointed out halfway through the meal. All I saw on the menu was a reference to steak with “cheval” tacked on.
For most Americans, eating horsemeat triggers a visceral response. We are repulsed by the notion of eating our equine friends – devouring Trigger or Flicka. However, I wonder whether some of our strongly-held taboos are based merely on unquestioned cultural assumptions or biases. After all, many Europeans routinely serve horse in the same way that beef is served, except of course, our British cousins. Horses, like cows, are herbivores. So, why should there be a cultural prohibition against consumption of horses in the United States and Britain?
Perhaps some of our distaste for horsemeat can be traced to horses being in the same category as dogs. Eating a horse is somewhat akin to eating your dog, and therein lies some of the reason that horses are off-limits. We certainly would not eat our best friends, would we? Yet, there is a difference, despite the role of horses and dogs as pets and work animals: dogs eat meat, but horses do not. On the other hand, many Americans consume pork, even though hogs, like humans, are omnivores. Little wonder why the Jewish and Muslim religions ban the consumption of pork. Swine are considered unclean because of their lack of pickiness in their culinary choices.
Despite my intellectual awareness that horsemeat is really no different than beef, I must confess that when I learned that I was eating horse, there was a “yuck” factor going on in my brain as I consumed each bite. While I am not a particularly picky eater, and the horsemeat really tasted like beef, I just could not get my cultural aversion to horsemeat out of my mind – no matter how illogical it was. A friend and I used to joke that we would eat anything that would not eat us first. I have now discovered that this is no longer true, and probably never was.
I’ve always thought of myself as a logical person, who strives to view the world objectively. However, my encounter with horsemeat has shown me just how much cultural conditioning controls my life, despite my best efforts.
Diane Brown is an attorney from Highland Village. E-mail any questions or opinions about this commentary to keranews.org.