Healthy Horsemeat on A Gourmet Gallop Back
Brigitte Bardot and queasy Anglophones may regard it as beyond the pale but viande de cheval is galloping back onto menus in France where it has long-held a special spot in the national gastronomic pantheon.
Despite the dwindling number of horse-meat butchers in France and a campaign against hippophagy (the eating of horsemeat) pursued by the Fondation Brigitte Bardot, horse-meat steaks are back in fashion and according to Courrier International set to become the new Parisian in-taste in 2013.
Indeed, says Eric Vigoureux of the Fédération des bouchers hippophagiques de France the horse-meat butchers federation: “It is absurd to single out the horse and make it a taboo as in England. If we, the French eat horses, it is partly thanks to the British, he jokingly suggests. For if the English had not laid siege to Napoleon’s soldiers, they would not have been forced to slaughter their horses and then they may have never acquired the taste for horse steak.”
That fable of cause and effect notwithstanding the news is unlikely to take the heat out of a major row in Britain where, as our nature columnist Mike Alexander notes below in his piece How do you Like Your Horse, an almighty uproar broke out when horse-meat was recently found in hamburger patties.
A related and earlier row in Canada, where an episode of Top Chef Canada on the Food Network channel sparked outrage over the use of horses for human consumption, shows how foodie views differ dramatically on the European continent and elsewhere.
In the United States — home of the cowboy, the ranch, the Wild West and much other horse-related tradition — Congress in November 2011 lifted a five-year-old ban on funding horse-meat inspections. This means slaughterhouses are once again allowed to slaughter horses for the table and horse has reportedly made a sprint back onto restaurant menus across the country led by the White House.
The taste for horse-meat in France dates back to the Revolution of 1789. With the fall of the aristocracy its auxiliaries went off in search of ways to survive . The aristocrats’ hairdressers and tailors retrained to serve commoners and horses formerly a sign of aristocratic prestige, ended up alleviating the hunger of the lower classes. During the Napoleonic campaigns Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, surgeon-in-chief to the Grand Army, advised starving troops to eat their horses. The top eight countries where horse is on the menu, consume some 4.7 million animals a year. The meat is slightly sweet, tender, low in fat and high in protein.
And as Courrier International sets out to show, horse is sprinting back as a strong favourite in the restaurant stakes: “Taxi Jaune, a Parisian restaurant near the Centre Pompidou, is almost like a bar in a riding club with its walls decorated by dozens of pictures of horses on the walls. But on closer inspection the visitor will realize that one of the drawings shows which parts of the animal correspond to different cuts of meat on the menu while a glance around the room shows many customers contentedly tucking into horse steaks. For Taxi Jaune chef, Otis Lebert, is a passionate advocate of horse-meat. A good horse steak he says can be as soft as Kobe beef. Eating horse remains controversial and groups such as the Brigitte Bardot Foundation are campaigning to stop the trade. ‘Eating horse is an under-publicised scandal, says the former actress. The horse is not livestock, but the noblest conquest of man.’ “
How do you Like Your Horse – by Mike Alexander
This week the British papers are awash with the shocking news that horse-meat traces have been found in several supposedly pure beef products. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) this week announced that ten out of twenty seven hamburger patties tested contained traces of horse DNA and several large supermarket chains were affected. Although most traces were small, some Tesco burgers were found to contain as much as 27% horse-meat. All the supermarkets involved have been quick to remove the products in question from their shelves.
Here in France people are wondering what all the fuss is about. The French have been eating horse for years. During the Second French Empire the government legalized the sale of horse-meat and the first horse butchery (boucherie chevelines) was opened in Paris in 1866. The Pope banned the eating of horse meat in 732 because of its links to German pagan rituals but it is thought that the many Europeans have been eating horse meat regardless. There is evidence that it was an important protein source even in the Middle Ages.
Although the French take most of the rap from critics for eating horse-meat, it is consumed in many countries both in- and outside Europe ,with France not even making into the list of top ten producers of horse-meat in the world.
It is in the English-speaking world that people are most vociferously opposed to the use of this meat as a food source yet as recently as 1930 horse was eaten in places such as Yorkshire. The taboo among English speakers seems to stem from man’s relationship to the horse as a work animal and later a pet for the meat itself offers no health risks to humans.
One of the U.K.’s top chefs, Gordon Ramsay, caused outrage recently when he suggested that it should be reintroduced to English menus. Nevertheless a few top UK restaurants do offer horse-meat as a delicacy.
The repugnance shown towards horse-meat in Anglophone countries has not stopped them exporting the meat to the food trade. It is estimated for instance that the US exported 138 000 horses to Canadian and Mexican slaughter houses in 2010 while the UK are suppliers to the horse-meat market here in Europe.
UK Animal Aid estimate that of the 17 000 thoroughbreds born each year, only 5000 of these will actually race. It is unlikely that the un-raced horses are being absorbed by the leisure market and it is thus assumed some of these are being slaughtered and sold to the meat trade in Europe. A trade that is not illegal in the UK.
As the investigation into horse-meat on UK shelves continues the three Irish slaughter houses that processed the meat have been quick to point the finger at their European suppliers. Perhaps instead of demonising the French for their eating habits, British consumers need to take a long look at their own meat industry and decide where any blame really lies.
Story: Mike Alexander
(Additional reporting: Ken Pottinger)
Some horse-meat sources:
Boucherie Chevaline Eric & Sophie Vigoureux, mobile : 06 11 54 00 86, Tel: 05 57 84 84 71
Restaurant le Bar du Boucher – 5, rue du Parlement Sainte-Catherine 33 000,Bordeaux – Tel. 05 56 81 37 37
- Just say neigh: Horsemeat in burgers horrifies UK (news.yahoo.com)
- Horsemeat found in beef burgers (bbc.co.uk)
- ‘Horseburger’ scandal touches nerve in Britain; piques curiosity about a taboo meat (ctvnews.ca)
- Découvrir Et Déguster De La Viande De Cheval
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