The recent UK and now Europe-wide scandal over beef products that contained varied quantities of horse meat has slowly turned into a chorus of name-calling and finger pointing. And while the outrage simmers in the UK, where horse meat is generally considered a taboo it is the French who are traditional horse-meat eaters who are complaining the most about their ‘tainted’ frozen lasagne.
But where is all this hate coming from? Despite a lot of angry propaganda, and safety concerns raised over the initial state of the animals slaughtered, horsemeat is quite good for you.
Chewier and gamier than beef, horse has a dark reddish colour, not dissimilar to fresh steaks from an ethical producer like Mile High Steaks. It is not as different from beef as buffalo meat is and it actually gets better the older the animal is, as the meat tends to become tenderer with age. Furthermore, horsemeat is quite comparable in its nutritional value to beef. Gram for gram it has almost the same nutrient composition, caloric yield and fat content but it has nearly twice the quantity of iron. Indeed, in Hungary people are often advised to eat horsemeat as an easy way of combating anaemia.
Hungary isn’t the only country that has a taste for horse. All around Europe horsemeat is eaten as ‘the other red meat’. The French consider it a delicacy and it is sold at specialised butcher’s shops, particularly in the south of France. The Germans use horsemeat in one of the variations on Sauerbraten, a popular pot roast usually served with mash or dumplings. Italians are also great fans of the meat, especially in a cured form as bresaola or in pastissadas. The Japanese are huge fans of the stuff which is eaten raw with ginger and soy sauce as a form of horse sashimi. Even Britain, where the eating of horsemeat is more or less a cultural taboo has embraced it several times in the past in times of food insecurity.
There are larger issues at stake in the entire scandal than whether or not horsemeat is good for you and whether Britons will eat it. The implications range from the criminal, if the horsemeat was indeed added on purpose to increase profit margins, to the economic. Beef is not easy nor cheap to produce and the only way to keep prices ridiculously low is by cutting corners a lot. Organic beef might not be for everybody but 1$ burger patties are likely as close to unfit for human consumption as you can get within the boundaries of the law, even without the horsemeat in them!
One thing is becoming increasingly certain though: with rising food prices, dollar menu McDoubles and cheap ‘mystery beef’ burgers are on their way out. Will this make the world a better place? Probably not, but it might make a lot of people start eating healthier and questioning just what is in their food.