A recent study commissioned by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency discovered one in five packages of sausages from grocery stores across Canada contained off-label ingredients. One of those ingredients was horse meat.
Researchers from the University of Guelph examined 100 sausages and found seven of 27 beef sausages contained pork, four of 20 chicken sausages contained turkey and 15 turkey sausages contained no turkey at all – just chicken. This is alarming if you follow a kosher diet but is particularly dreadful if you own or love horses.
I, like most North Americans (though I hear horse meat is favoured in Montreal), seems to have a cultural and emotional aversion to eating horse meat.
Partly, it’s due to whatever food you grow up with. Your childhood diet is your “normal.” Growing up in our Dutch household with a mother who loved to cook, we ate beef, pork and chicken with large helpings of potatoes and veg from the garden. Butters, gravies, eggs, bacon and cold, rich Jersey milk straight from the bulk tank were staples. None of us were fat because the dairy farm required all hands on board. We worked hard, ate large and were raised up fit and fed. Horse was not on the menu.
However, when we visited Holland, it was quite normal for family members to serve up cold, sliced “paardenvlees” to eat on fresh “brood” for lunch. They were surprised at our shocked response to what they saw as perfectly healthy and tasty lunch offerings.
Fast forward many years when you get to travel as an adult and are exposed to cuisine from different countries and cultures. In Haiti, where goats roam hillsides and streets alike, eating goat is the normal. So we did also, finding it hearty and flavorful. I didn’t grow up on the east coast but a two-week vacation there had us slurping down mussels like a native. France? A charcuterie board was salty goodness. Jamaica? Spicy jerk chicken had our eyes watering. Mexico? Well, we played it safe there. With plans for Scotland in the works, there is talk of trying haggis, “a type of pudding composed of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep” states the internet. Gross and more gross. It’s not my “normal” but I’m keen to try it.
Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows suggests we can be socialized in and out of eating certain meats. “We learn to classify a handful of animals as edible and we’re socialized basically to disconnect from our authentic thoughts and feelings… When we see a hamburger we don’t see a dead animal, we see a piece of food,” Joy says.
Humans are exceptionally good at compartmentalizing. I may have, in fact, eaten a sausage containing horse meat and not have known by taste or texture. It was sausage. Not Amber the mare in the barn. The idea of it, though, horrifies me.
Having owned and ridden horses for many years of my life, admired their beauty and marveled at their intelligence, I have put horses on an animal pedestal as creatures that inspire poetry and bring pure joy to my spirit. Yet, they are a herd animal like our cows. They eat grass like the goats. They poop in the same pen where they sleep. They are not adverse to tossing off an unwelcome guest and they can bite, kick, buck and bolt as per their flight or fight natures.
However, they are also an animal, like cats and dogs, that you develop a kinship with. Their intelligence level and need for companionship creates a bond. Unlike the rooster in the barn that would sooner scratch me than be held, horses respond to human interaction. The more time you spend with your horse, the more you understand its particular personality and how to teach and encourage it’s behaviour to match your requirements. Horses shine at parades and wow spectators who watch them pull carts, race or fly around barrels. They enthrall us with their physical capabilities and sheer grace and power. Books and movies have elevated the status of horse to mythical proportions and made us all long for the connection we witness in movies like The Black Stallion, War Horse or Flicka.
It’s a curious thing, though, why we can eat one kind of meat and not another.
Ultimately, whenever humans form emotional connections with animals is when the link between animal and meat becomes an abhorrent possibility. However, I also know if my children were starving and horse meat was the only food available, catastrophic scarcity would likely force the surrender of emotional connection for the greater need. Now, however, happy with abundant choice, I’ll be cautious where I buy sausages from now on. ◊