In the last few days it has been revealed that large quantities of foodstuffs common in the European markets were labeled clearly as beef when they were, in fact, horse. Many people have found this upsetting; especially those that have eaten it.
A few observations:
Most religions of the world place dietary restrictions on their practitioners. Buddhism and other religions object not to the eating of meat per se, but to the needless and dis-compassionate taking of life. Judaism and Christianity have dietary laws clearly intended as practical guides to food safety, avoiding the ingestion of blood or decomposed meats; the animal must have a cloven hoof. The Hindus hold the cow in sacred reverence.
We form intimate working and recreational relationships with horses, not with cows. Horses are easier to ride. Some cows have horns. Neither species speaks English.
It takes far more resources to fatten a cow for slaughter than it does to fatten a horse, though neither is especially more or less nutritious. There are lots of countries, due to climate and resources, that historically have and continue to raise horses for meat. Many of these countries are modern, and European. Americans typically pretend they do not know this.
There is neither a better reason to not eat a horse than a cow nor a better reason to eat a cow rather than a horse. Eating animals is eating animals, at least to some extent. Cows and horses bear a good resemblance to one another, certainly more so than a fish and a horse. If you can eat one, you can probably eat the other.
The controversy that is unfolding this week is not about whether or not it is gross or morally and ethically reprehensible to eat horses or even horses versus cows. This is the illumination of the modern food system. What should really be making us feel uncomfortable about about this is how difficult it is to determine the original source of the meat. That the food industry even in such a small geographic region as continental Europe can be so convolute so as to have obscured both the source and the end product. The real argument no longer lies in how we eat, vegetarian versus carnivore, but in the industry that has come to feed us.
This is what we eat. This is not happening across the world right now, its happening right here. We just haven't shined the light. Be impeccable with your food. Understand where it comes from and vote with your dollar. Buy locally, and trust small food handlers.
To watch video of the wild horses of Oregon:
To watch a truly distressing portrait of the American cattle industry: