I’ll admit up front that I’m an adventurous omnivore and have sampled seal, moose, whale, rattlesnake, lion and bear. I was raised to try everything – “Children are starving in India, clean your plate!”
When I was growing up in southern Mississippi, vegetarians were as rare as wildebeest. Back then, the only people who didn’t eat meat were lost in a swamp and too weak to kill something.
Thus it’s no surprise that I eat hamburger, which, contrary to its name, contains neither ham nor German city-dweller. But if a smirking dinner companion informed me that I had just eaten a burger that contained horse meat, I wouldn’t stagger to the restroom and call my lawyer in mid-barf, though he’d deserve it. Instead, I’d probably arch my eyebrows and say, “Interesting. I didn’t notice a difference.” My companion would crinkle his nose and say, “Really?” and I would say, “Na-a-a-a-a-y,” because my profession requires it.
Some would argue that it’s analogous to finding that your hot dog contains poodle. Au contraire. As usual, people are going crazy over perception, not facts. “OMG! I just ate part of a domesticated animal 10 times my size that blinks and feels pain and has hooves and suckles its young and eats grass in the same pasture it poops in!!” Unlike slow, edible cows, of course.
No, the reason we recoil at the idea of eating horse meat is that we typically don’t name cattle, but could name horses until the cows come home – Secretariat, Mr. Ed, Fury, Flicka, Trigger, Seabiscuit. No masked man ever rode out of town in a cloud of dust yelling, “Hi-yo-o-o Bessie! Awa-a-a-a-ay!” Ergo, we’ll stop eating cows only when they start getting TV and movie credits.
Some will say the very idea of eating certain things nauseates them, then they will dive into their scrambled eggs and chicken livers, unfazed that what they are eating came from butts and guts. Sushi fans will happily scarf down eel, sea urchin and octopus, but that’s not gross because an octopus never won the Derby.
It’s all perception. One of the main things going against horse meat is that it’s called horse meat, whereas politically correct meat doesn’t have the critter’s name anywhere near it, e.g., pork, beef, Whopper, hot links, McRibs, etc., which sound more like substances than animals who nuzzle their children. We call chicken and turkey by their names because they don’t have lips or fur and we can’t milk or pet them so they were obviously born for the deli section. Ostrich? They’re aliens – make mine medium rare.
There’s a delicious fish whose actual name is dolphin, but it didn’t sell well until purveyors started calling it mahi-mahi so people wouldn’t think it was a Sea World performer who couldn’t get the hang of a back flip. Which is why we’ll eat veal and calamari, but would never order the Cow Toddler Special or Squid Loops. Lamb is an oddity because it actually designates the creature as a baby. Still, how many people would order a rack of Sheep Infant? Not many mothers, for sure.
Giving something a French name automatically bestows gourmet status, of course. Witness chateaubriand, filet mignon, lapin, and cheval au vin. That last one, FYI, is My Little Pony in a wine sauce.