Eating horsemeat in France

I think what shocks the French more than the actual ingesting of horse is the defrauding of consumers through false and inaccurate labeling on frozen food boxes.  I mean, they eat snails, frogs’ legs, veal brains, blood pudding and pigs trotters, for heaven’s sake. Why would eating horsemeat set them aquiver?

When I first came to France in the 1980s to study French in the sunwashed city of Montpellier, I ate horsemeat.  Once.  I didn’t buy the stuff from a horsemeat butcher, called a boucherie chevaline, of which there were several scattered around the city.  No, it was served to me one night in the guise of a hamburger.  At the end of the meal the hostess asked me how I liked the meat.  I said that it was good, but it had an odd sweetish flavour.  Everyone at the table laughed and I was told that I had just eaten horsemeat.  I was not amused.  In my teen years I owned a horse named Sundance, a beautiful chestnut quarter horse with a white blaze on his face.  Realizing that I had dined on an equine-burger was akin to learning that I had just eaten my pet dog.  I decided to not knowingly eat horsemeat again.

And that’s what this current food fraud scandal is all about: we’ve been unwittingly eating it, thinking it was certified beef. When you go to the supermarket to buy a box of frozen lasagna or spaghetti bolognese and it’s written clearly on the box “100% French beef“, that’s what you expect to be eating.  You might imagine, if you imagine at all, contented cattle placidly grazing on grass and loafing in a sun-dappled Limousin valley. What a rude shock to discover that in reality what you’re eating is bits of carcass from a sorry old horse that was slaughtered in an abattoir in Romania!

That’s it, I’m becoming a full-fledged vegetarian.

I did some investigating and was surprised at the popularity of horsemeat consumption around the world and shocked at the thriving horsemeat business that that generates.

In 2005 a survey was conducted to determine the five biggest horsemeat-consuming countries: they are China, Mexico, Russia, Italy, and Kazakhstan. Italy! Home of my beloved cioccolata calda??  I was in Bologna over Christmas a few years ago.  I wonder if those numerous plates of spaghetti bolognese that I scarfed down was full of horse?  The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, reports that every year 100,000 live horses are transported into and around the European Union for human consumption, mainly to Italy but also to France and Belgium.

And before my fellow Canadians get too smug in thinking that this happens in other countries, here’s a shocker:  it appears that horse-eating countries of the world covet Canadian horseflesh.  One Canadian horse is worth nearly $20,000 and every week approximately one hundred are loaded onto a plane at Calgary International Airport and flown to Japan to be slaughtered, sliced thin and served in Japanese restaurants.  It’s a delicacy called basashi and it’s eaten raw.

In spite of the seriousness of the scandal that’s gripping France and Great Britain this month, newspapers have come up with some humourous headlines:

European horsemeat scandal gallops on.  Horsemeat scandal set to spur tougher food tests. Restaurateurs respond to horsemeat neighsayers.  Not sure I’d want to be saddled with horsemeat as a mane meal. And – Quit horsing around!

And I just thought of this now:  It behooves us to reflect on this matter.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 142

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