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Once, when I told someone that I had lived in Belgium for two years, they responded with “Oh my GOD! They eat HORSES! Don’t they?” Well, yes. It is possible to go to a Brussels restaurant and order a horse steak. In a way, it’s kind of like going to Paris, and getting shocked and yelling, “Oh my GOD! They eat SNAILS.” Or sea urchins. It all comes back to cultural sensibilities. Americans tend to be shocked and outraged about horse meat, partly because we view horses as either pets or work animals. Plus, the horse is such a part of the lore and pageantry of the wild west, and that, I believe, is part of what makes horse meat culturally obscene. We don’t want to imagine the Lone Ranger eating Silver. For my part, the last time I was in Paris, I watched my dad order and chow down on escargot, and I thought it was gross. Plus, I can honestly say that I, while living in Belgium, never consciously dined on horse.

It’s hard to tell, some times, especially if you can’t read a French menu. I have eaten had a sandwhich or two at Quick, the Belgian attempt at McDonalds, but most Americans I know despise non-American fast food. So, for people stationed at SHAPE or in Brussels, Quick was often passed off as “horse burgers.” Of course, nobody ever had any factual proof of this. At any rate, chow.com has an interesting article about cuisine and horses. Strangely enough, it confirmed my intuition about cowboys and the American psyche:

Weinstein would argue that our get-out-of-dinner card for horses isn’t moral or consistent. It’s simply cultural. But why? “Eating it goes against the cowboy mythology,” says Rob Walsh, the restaurant critic for the Houston Press and a self-described “culinary thrill seeker.” Walsh is working on The Texas Cowboy Cookbook, and he suspects that cowboys and the role that horses played in the nation’s history might be behind the taboo. Inversely, he also thinks that’s why Europeans do eat horse: “The cowboy culture came from Spain in the 11th century. In Europe, the vast majority never rode horses.” That’s why, say, Slovenians are able to swallow foal carpaccio: horses didn’t show up in their third-grade history textbooks. Walsh may have an explanation, but he doesn’t really understand it himself. “It never ceases to amaze me that Texans love venison sausage but are appalled by horse sausage.” (Yes, he’s had horse before—in France. His verdict? “It was delicious.”)


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