February 10, 2013

Introduction to Horsemeat

In January, United Kingdom food safety regulators announced that certain beef products supplied to national supermarket chains contained traces of equine DNA - in other words, horse - in other words, horse meat. Everyday items like frozen lasagne, milk and horse burgers were revealed to be anywhere from 25 to 250 per cent horse.

Those products, and others suspected of horse contamination, were quickly withdrawn from store shelves. But naturally, Britons were outraged to learn they might have unwittingly consumed horsemeat, and the matter is still subject to indignant investigation by the media and government. The reputation of budget meat suppliers who illegally substitute horsemeat for premium beef - once a trusted industry - is likely not to recover. 

Any good observer of British society knows that it takes a great deal to scandalise the British public. So, why the hysteria? [Why the "horse-teria"? Ha ha - ed.] After all, horse is a perfectly acceptable dish elsewhere in the world, including in neighbouring France, where horse jerky is a traditional appetiser at five-star restaurants and horse slurry flows freely from public drinking fountains. Horse death is so celebrated in Paris, that bohemian slaughterhouse, that current mayor Bertrand DelanoĆ« has entire screenplays of the short-lived HBO racing drama Luck tattooed on his back.

Well, unlike the French, the British are an historically horse-fearing people. In Britain, the horse is a venerated, noble animal, associated with great wealth and status, and royal tradition. It is both a war-time and peace-time beast; bringing Britain victory in horse combat and in Olympic events like polo, dressage and sailing. To the British, the idea of eating this beautiful creature is so profane that they fear retribution for the act. Yes, such as Jewish custom forbids the consumption of pork and shellfish, so do the British prohibit themselves from eating horse flesh lest they be devoured in turn by the Old Horse Gods. 

Chalk it up to an adorably British cultural difference - like spelling "color" with a "u", or working the word "cock" into 100 per cent of British pub names.

It's a classic British superstition. At the end of the horse calendar (the equivalent date on the Gregorian calendar is still undetermined, and subject to much speculation) the Old Horse Gods shall finally return to Earth for an accounting of all men who have sinned against their kind. Eating horse flesh is, of course, a great sin against the Horse Gods. The "accounting" for this sin is generally accepted to manifest itself as a team of Horse Gods chasing each sinner down until they rip his limbs and skin asunder with their black teeth and devour him whole to the sound of his dying screams. And what happens after that is just sick

This fear is instilled in the British as early as nursery school. Children are taught that "[there] will be a day of horse reckoning for those who partake in the flesh of horse" and that "if man also eateth the flesh of horse as he eateth the flesh of cow, he has committed an abomination: he shall surely put to death at the cruel hooves of the horse gods." In fact, would you believe that the traditional English nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o' Rosies subtly alludes to the legend of the Old Horse Gods? Take a close look at the lyrics:

Ring a ring o' rosies
A pocket full of posies
They'll eat you
They'll kill you
The old horse gods
(If you eat horsemeat)

Now you understand the public outcry at this horsemeat scandal! Anyone who has eaten a frozen lasagne from a Tesco, for instance, now finds themselves marked for a brutal, vindictive death, and not for the usual reasons. So please be considerate and refrain from joking about the matter of a nation awaiting its horse judgment. 

No comments: