A reader writes:
About three years ago, I was eating at a grotto in Lugano, Switzerland. I saw the word “puledro” on the menu. Not knowing the term, I reasoned that it sounded a bit like “pollo,” so I guessed it was chicken. I ordered it. To my surprise, a steak was brought to the table. I proceeded to eat what was the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (and I live in Kansas City, so I’ve had a lot of great steaks). The next day I raved about the wonderful steak to my friends. Then I mentioned it to my friend who is the dean of the college where I was teaching that summer. “Steak?” she said, “I didn’t know they served steak there. What was it called?” “Puledro,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, “that means you just ate horse.”
The strange thing is, just knowing this leaves me doubting I could ever order it again. It reveals a lot about how our social custom and schemes of classifying animals and foods according to what is acceptable and unacceptable shape everything about our choices. I don’t plan to eat horse again. But I’d be lying if I pretended it wasn’t delicious!
Mr. Shafer needs to do just a tad more research. We don’t eat horse in the US because horses are not specifically raised for food here. And that is a big problem because the horses that do end up in the food supply are full of a wide variety of chemicals that range from unhealthy to downright dangerous. I have a horse and he routinely gets a number of drugs that are specifically labelled “not for use in animals intended for food”.
Perhaps the most dangerous horse drug, and one of the most commonly used, is phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory with such distinct carcinogenic properties in humans that EU specifically forbids horses who have ingested it from being used in human food. It never clears the horse’s system. Horses are not tracked like cattle are in the US. There is no food safety mechanism for horse meat. Horse brokers routinely falsify the documents that accompany slaughter horses that are supposed to certify that the horses are drug free. So pity the poor Europeans who thought they were eating free range American mustangs and who were getting instead broken-down race horses full of steroids, bute, de-wormer, and other unsavory substances.
In addition, horses are very uneconomic to raise, taking much longer to reach market weight and are therefore less profitable. They are also a mess to slaughter as their blood volume is much greater than cattle, resulting in a waste water nightmare. If you google Kaufman, TX and the closure of Canadian horse slaughter plants, you will learn more than you ever want to know about the environmental downside of horse slaughter.
The horse meat found in the latest scandal came from Romania … who knows what their food safety processes are. I am a horse owner and horse lover. I would never eat horse because of emotional issues but because I know far too much about where the meat came from and how lax the controls on the supply are.
The reason we don’t eat horses is that our lives depended on them for centuries. They have killed themselves to be loyal, and they are perceptive and intelligent in a way a cow or a deer or a pig is not. Our entire civilization was, until recently, based in their labor. I cannot believe that obtuse reader thinks it’s some weird cultural attachment. To get a better understanding of their contributions, and to fully understand what kinds of horses wind up in the killing pen, read the bestseller The Eighty-Dollar Champion.