They don’t eat horses, do they?

A sign on a shop door in the old town square in Brenham, Texas

A sign on a shop door in the old town square in Brenham, Texas

The news of beef burgers in several big supermarkets around the UK and in Ireland being contaminated with horse meat is all over the headlines today. It reminded me of this picture that I took in Brenham, Texas, last summer.

At the time, I was surprised to see it — I’d never heard of horsemeat being an issue in Texas. I knew from living in France and visiting other countries that people do eat horse but always thought of it as an issue of personal taste and social custom. When I researched the issue after returning to London, I found out that slaughtering horses had become a heated debate.

Slaughterhouses in Texas exported the meat to Asia and Europe and many Texans were against it, based either on the belief that the animals suffered unduly or that these creatures — because of our attachment to them as pets and companions — aren’t the kind of animal you should eat. It’s strongly tied to identity, as my picture shows: We aren’t the kind of people to eat horse.

In 2007, Texas slaughterhouses were shut down, and some activitists kept fighting the sale and transport of Texas horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico. But there are also some America politicians promoting horsemeat, as detailed in this Houston Post blog.

Of course, the issue for the beef burgers here is slightly different: something was in the burgers that shouldn’t have been and that wasn’t divulged to consumers. That has to be rectified.

But the stories highlight our discomfort both in the US and the UK about eating horses. We think of them as beautiful animals to ride, race and own. We still have the problem of a few unscrupulous owners who mistreat their animals. But whatever you do, the consensus seems, don’t put them on our plate.

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+
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6 Comments

  1. January 16, 2013 / 6:50 pm

    A friend of mine once gave up chicken, because another friend revealed she used to own a chicken that came to her when she called its name.

    It seems all we need’s a little bit of anthropomorphism to turn us off the flesh of particular animals….or meat in general. I was vegetarian for 10 years, and the thing that turned me that way wasn’t animal cruelty, or environmental concerns….it was watching the film Babe.

    • January 16, 2013 / 11:33 pm

      Nell, I think you’re right that once we start considering animals connected to us in some way, it’s harder to eat them. Although where I grew up, it was coming practice for the kids in the 4H club at school to spend a semester or a year raising a cow who they then sold to market for slaughter.

  2. January 22, 2013 / 10:58 am

    Living in Italy I was given horse steak to eat once without knowing it, as my then husband knew I never would have eaten it otherwise.

    The meat was delicious, and ask any Italian the specific butchers take enormous pride and great care in their work. The meat is considered ‘pure’ and much ‘better for you’ hence the price is high. A speciality.

    I never converted totally as the ‘anti-horse-eating’ in me goes too deep but I did eat on a few occasions when in company and I always felt uncomfortable even though the meal was always excellent.

  3. February 4, 2013 / 1:16 pm

    I think British folk are all squimish carnivores. We eat meat and rarely think about where it comes from. When buying meat in the supermaket there is little to remind you that you are buying an animal product. It is easy to make a separation. Like Nell I was vegetarian for a long time and recently went back to meat eating.

  4. February 10, 2013 / 8:55 am

    Living in France, I’m not too concerned about the issue of eating horsemeat – I personally don’t, but it’s no worse than eating a cow or a pig in my eyes and won’t do anyone any harm. What is totally wrong though is selling horse as beef. It makes me wonder what else they’re putting in there – sewer rats, stray dogs ? How far would they go to make a fast buck? I remember when Mad Cow disease first started and a sign went up in our local McDonalds proudly stating that they would no longer use beef testicles, rectums or eyelids in their burgers (there were more but they are the ones I remember) – it was the words “no longer” that chilled me to the core. It’s scary not knowing what we’re eating and feeding to our kids !

  5. April 10, 2013 / 5:19 am

    KUDOS to Ms Deibel and her org for stepping up to ectadue the US public about horse slaughter. There should be billboards like hers at the entrance to every race track and all across the country. Shame on the tb industry and all horse owners for not doing more to stop this horrific practice!Now is the time to step UP!

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