Horsing around

January 16, 2013

I’m mot sure about all this fuss surrounding hamburgers containing horsemeat. OK, so the Tesco Everyday Value burger containing 29 per cent horse is a little hard to swallow, in every sense. But the other burgers tested only contained traces of horse DNA.

I know, I know. If you buy beef, you should actually get beef. Not horse. And particularly not pig, as that provokes all kinds of religious complications. And we should definitely have no ambiguity in where, or what, our meat is, after all our British beef scandals. But in fact horsemeat is lean and, dare I say it, very tasty.

I went to stay with my lovely godmother in France when I was about nine and I vividly remember being taken to the Boucherie Chevaline. I was crazy about horses at the time, and I remember asking what the red-painted shop with a big horse’s head sign was. I expect I was hoping for riding lessons. But no, inside were slabs of bright fresh meat and that smell of warm sawdust you get in butchers’ shops. I don’t remember whether we bought the meat.  I don’t remember eating it. But I do remember, in my first job, I had to go and stay in a pit of a hotel in Strasbourg while working at the European parliament. One evening, feeling even more exhausted and penniless than usual, I saw a little restaurant close to the hotel and went in. It had a very short menu, and ‘faux fillet’ was the cheapest thing on it. I kind of knew-but-didn’t-know what that really meant. I ordered it anyway. I remember the waiter was a total pest, trying to chat me up, and I had to pretend to be glued to my book to get rid of him. But the steak was very, very good indeed. Delicious, in fact. Yes, it was horse.

So, while horse may not be what Tesco burger consumers ordered, it may actually be rather yummy anyway. And aren’t we being rather silly, with all our taboos about what we will and won’t eat? Apparently, also during my stay in France as a child, I ventured out onto the balcony one day and found two rabbits in a cage. ‘How lovely, what are their names?’ I asked my godmother’s daughter. ‘They’re called ‘Lunch”, she said, in a perfect, Gallic matter-of-fact way. I’ve been told I ran off screaming, but I don’t remember that either. I have since eaten rabbit, though. I’m still  not keen.

The girls and I were talking about it in the car this morning on the way to school. ‘It’s  all just a matter of convention. The Chinese eat dogs, after all, no reason why we shouldn’t eat, say, hamsters,’ I said. Oooops. Too late, I remembered that Child One had had a succession of well-beloved pet hamsters. ‘Hamsters?’ she said. I was braced for an angry barrage, possibly even tears.

‘But there’s not nearly enough meat on a hamster,’ she said. Maybe she has French blood?

A French boucherie chevaline, or horse butchers

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  • Addy January 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I’ve always thought how funny it is that it is acceptable to eat some animals and not others. I’ll confess to being shocked that they eat dogs and cats in the Far East, yet will eat fluffy lambs, cute pigs and adorable rabbits with no problem. Cows are fine, but horses aren’t. Goats and venison are delicacies, but ponies aren’t. I know if I saw a single one of any of them running around in a field, I would not be able to bring myself to eat them, but somehow cut up on a tray and covered in cling-film in Tescos or Sainsburys divorces them from their origin! Hmm, hamster? Not as much meat as a chicken wing, I am afraid.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

      I’m with you, completely. If I had to kill my own meat, I would definitely be a vegetarian. I don’t even like stuffing a chicken, or putting one in the oven really (they look too much like cats with their clothes off) though I do manage to do a roast, of course! We’ve allowed ourselves to get very squeamish and, dare I say it, a bit hypocritical about meat. Interesting that there hasn’t been a huge amount of outrage about the horsemeat – maybe people are more willing to try cheaper cuts while times are hard?!

  • janerowena January 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    In my late teens I went to stay with belgian friends. One night we went out to see a band and afterwards stopped off at what I thought was a fish and chip van. I wasn’t really paying attention to what was ordered as I was too busy nattering, so was surprised to be handed a cone made of card filled with a very thick and delicious stew, with a wooden fork, accompanied by another cone full of chips. Yes – they had horsemeat and chips. It was, as you say, delicious. As I had a pony I felt an absolute traitor. I wouldn’t search it out, but I would certainly eat it again if presented with some.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm

      You had a pony – lucky you! That was my absolute dream as a tween/teenager. I never even had riding lessons (insert violin music here). But, as you say, horsemeat is pretty delicious! Oh, the moral dilemma …. at least we’re not living in France or Belgium so don’t have to wrestle with our consciences too much. I hope you had mayonnaise with the chips too 🙂