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In that I’m an old farm boy who saw the muscled behinds of horses many times as I guided a team pulling drags, stoneboats, or “bundle wagons” during threshing, I have a more than passing interest in the current arguments about the slaughter and the practice of hippography—the eating of horse flesh. Being French and fairly knowledgeable about the French diet, I know that horse is just another meat among the many available in French homes, restaurants, or markets.
As I was ages 9-14 through World War II, I knew that a lot of horses were consumed in the U.S. because beef, pork, and mutton were rationed. I do know that our family never ate horse meat at our table because as farmers we raised, hunted, and fished for our food. But we never asked our neighbors or relatives what kind of meat we were eating at their tables. So maybe...
Me Like A Grape
I have no knowledge that we ever killed a horse on our farm. We normally kept five horses and one two-plow tractor for farm work. We had a team of Belgians and a team of Percherons, both breeds huge and powerful, along with a “little” grey we used as a single or as a sub in case one horse was hurt. Belgians can weigh up to 3,200 pounds, while Percherons tip scales at 2,700. They ate a lot of hay and oats, making a lot of meat on the hoof.
The grey was an ornery one, ready to kick or stomp you if it were Tuesday, but the other four were placid, well-behaved, and sensitive. My dad often told the story of how when I was three, he had unhooked the horses from machinery so they could go into the barn for their ration of oats. He didn’t know I was sitting and playing in the middle of the doorway. As he looked around the corner of the barn, he saw four horses weighing about five tons stepping daintily over me so they could reach their oat bin. Fortunately, he did not yell. I do swear they never kicked me in the head, contrary to political rumors.
Life And Death
On The Farm
Farm kids soon learn about life and death. Sows crush sucklings accidentally as they move about their birthing pens. Dead calves have to be pulled out of their mothers by rope around the feet so the cow can survive to have another. You help your mother can chickens by holding their heads and bodies while she wields the axe. The same deal with geese—and geese put up a terrific fight. You help your dad kill and dress the rabbits you have fed carrots and lettuce to for the table.
You watch as the truck is loaded for the stockyards with the old cow that didn’t mind your cold hands. The beef you raised for 4-H and the county fair, giving it warm baths, petting it, teaching it to be led, knowing that, in the end, it would be sold for a premium price to be slaughtered. I have held the bowl to catch the blood from the slit throat of a pig my dad just shot. Blood sausage, head cheese, and all those other parts are delicious. But one does feel sorry for the role played by the pig. That’s life and death on the farm. And that includes the squirrels you have shot and cleaned for a squirrel and gravy dinner, and the ducks your dad has shot during the season.
I have always felt that city kids who have not been exposed to such life and death of animals they eat should experience a field trip to a slaughterhouse so they completely understand where their juicy hamburger and chicken nuggets come from. Actually, such an experience is almost Biblical for those who think they should live by the Good Book.
There Is A Simple
Solution To The
Wild Horse Problem:
Let’s Eat Them
Sure, a horse can be classified a pet. So can a cow or a sow. Bulls and boars don’t really qualify. I’ve never met a nice bull or boar. They are basically sexual psychotics and can’t be trusted. When my dad was fed up with a government functionary or a politician, he always added this admonition: “He’s as worthless as teats on a boar.” But they all are eaten with relish. Practically everyone in the world eats horses except for us.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently keeping about 50,000 wild horses and burros in very expensive nursing pastures and sanctuaries out West, spending $75 million to house and feed them. There are another 37,700 wild horses eating across the grasslands of ten states, about 11,000 more than the ranges can handle. Indian reservations are flooded with wild horses.
U.S. horse slaughterhouses were closed in 2005. Since then, horse abuse has skyrocketed. There are not enough natural predators such as mountain lions and grizzlies to keep the exploding population down. Horse lovers say all of these horses are so cute and cuddly they should be able to live out their lives in green pastures. Or maybe we can shoot the wild ones with some kind of nasal fertility-control drug by helicopter. Give me a break. I had better relationships with cows, pigs, and geese than I ever had with horses. Where are their nursing homes? Horses are like any other livestock. They are not buddies.
We have over ten million horses in this country, about 80 percent of them on hobby farms for occasional trail rides. Although it is against the law to ship horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, an estimated 167,000 made the secret trip across the borders in 2012. The real problem is this for many people: the horse they bought for $1,500 a few years ago is now worth $50. The 50,000 horses we are keeping in nursing homes for $75 million are now worth $2.5 million. When the American people lost $16 trillion during the Bush debacle, many could not keep an expensive, hungry hay burner on the back lot.
Should Eating Horse
Meat Be Allowed In
The U.S.? Survey Says:
Yes 28%, No 72%
Actually, there is no law against eating horse in the U.S., and Congress has just approved the slaughter of horses. New Mexico and Missouri slaughterhouses have applied for grants of federal inspection. Perhaps soon this delicious, nutritious meat will be readily available.
Horse meat is healthier than other red meats, particularly beef. It has less fat, and range and wild horses, unlike race horses, have not been pumped up with hormones, antibiotics, and speed. They also have not been raised in debilitating conditions in factory farm operations like beef, pork, and poultry. Horse is also very rich in vitamin B12, which is very important in blood production and the healthy functioning of the nervous system.
Julia Joffe in her article “Neigh Gourmet” learned to like horse meat in Moscow in the form of kazy, a horse sausage. She loved it. She writes about another horse experience: “By the time I got to Zurich, I was totally ready for the horse steak my hosts ordered for me. We got one beef steak and one horse steak... Compared to the sweet richness of the horse, the cow tasted bland and dry. If I ever come across horse on a menu again, I would order it. I still crave that horse steak.”
Horses have been an important source of protein in Central Asia for centuries, and have also been eaten in Europe—over the objections of Pope Gregory in 732. In Europe, horses became too valuable as work animals to eat until they got old and tough. In 1886 France legalized and encouraged the sale of horse meat as a method of getting protein to the undernourished poor. The rich in France, who treated their horses with oats, names, and personalities, hated the practice, while the poor loved the cheap meat.
Horse Is A Noble
Beast—But So Is Ox,
Some horses win races, some entertain us at rodeos, while others help rescue bull riders from injury or death. Many work on family ranches. If the family has enough money, kids can fulfill their dream of having a horse to ride. I see NDSU has a very competitive equestrian program. They join 392 teams that have about 9,500 riders. The very rich can own jumpers, dancers, and Olympic contestants. And they have a good excuse for wearing those expensive riding clothes. But that is the bright side. On the dark side, we have owners starving horses to death, or using caustic, burning chemicals to teach “high-stepping” to horses, or just turning them loose because they can’t afford to feed them anymore.
We have an ethic that allows us to march cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys into unforgiving slaughterhouses without blinking an eye. But then we can be sent into paroxysms of rage or pity if someone makes a horse walk the last mile. Culture, culture.
I see that the ordinary house rat is getting to be a popular pet. They are smart enough to welcome you when you come home by jumping up and down in their cages. And some will even play peekaboo with you while hiding behind something. They are being bred so they come in various colors. But rats are part of the diet in many Asian countries. Some are French-fried in batter as rat nuggets. Man eats all kinds of plants and animals. Cannibalism has been around since the Paleolithic Era and certified nuts—or those just plain hungry—continue the practice to this day. Think Donner Pass, the Uruguayan rugby team crash in the Andes Mountains, and the strange case of Alferd E. Packer, who ate four gold mining buddies when the five got lost in a Colorado blizzard. Worse, the four he ate were all Democrats.
Around The World
People Eat The
Endangered, The Alive,
And The Dangerous
Koreans probably have the most exotic diet in the world. One dish that stands out is called Sannakji. Made from octopus, it is eaten while it is still alive and covered with sesame oil. One has to be quick. Asians also eat battered, fried, and boiled silkworms. They make kabobs out of them.
Asians and Africans eat elephant meat, smoked and otherwise. Elephants can yield up to a half-ton of meat. Bush meat from gorillas and apes is a big business in Africa but is also illegal. The Japanese eat puffer fish, which is one of the most toxic fish in the world. Careful preparation is required or you are quickly paralyzed or dead. Ever had snapping turtle? They are difficult to kill but the meat is tasty. Nutria, which looks like a cross between a large river rat and a beaver, is becoming a very popular dish in Louisiana. They were imported from South America in the 1930s as a fur resource, but they eat every plant in sight, destroying flood plains and beaches. According to swamp people, they make great sausages.
I think that most rational human beings, which excludes factory farm types, have a regard for animals they hunt, raise, and eat. The poem “Hurt Hawks” (edited and condensed) by Robinson Jeffers tells an ethical story:
“The broken pillar of the wing jabs from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat. No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
and pain a few days: cat nor coyote will shorten the week waiting for death.
I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
had nothing left but misery from the bone too shattered for mending
the wing that railed under his talons when he moved. We had fed him six weeks,
I gave him freedom. He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening
asking for death. Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old implacable arrogance.
I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed. Owl-downy, soft feminine
Feathers, but what soared, the fierce rush, the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear
at its rising before it was quite unsheathed from reality.”