Know thy horse

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Illustration by Erica Löfman

GOD SAYS Because horses don’t have cloven hooves and are not ruminants, horse isn’t kosher. In Islam, it is a point of debate. Christians too had their neigh-say moment when Pope Gregory III banned human horse consumption in 732 AD due to its pagan links. Icelandic hippophagists fought Christianisation until an exemption was granted.

PEAKS AND TROUGHS Common among pre-war European peasants, horse consumption fell as automobiles took to the street. During WWI, the Great Depression and WWII, horse meat graced butcher shops from Europe to America as a cheap, protein-rich alternative, taking on an often undisclosed role at dinner.

OOPS! If you’re a post-war child, or if you’ve holidayed in Switzerland, northern Italy, Kazakhstan or Belgium, chances are you’ve probably already unwittingly supped on horse, unable to distinguish its soft, sometimes sweet, rich flavour from that of beef or venison. Or closer to home, perhaps you just didn’t recognise the stingy sprinklings of smoky meat upon your Sfilicciata pizza (€8) at I Due Forni?

WHO EATS IT? German appetites pale against the Italians and the French, theirs being the only country in the world with rising consumption of horse meat, generally bought from specialist chevalines. Horse is an established staple in Japan, where they call the meat sakura or ‘cherry blossom’, and in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, where horse outsells sheep.

WHO DOESN’T? Eating horse is taboo in numerous Anglophone countries like the UK, Australia and Canada (except for Quebec), and it’s actually illegal in some parts of America. The last US plants closed in 2007, relocating horse slaughter to Mexico and Canada. The development was controversial: live transport (“off the hoof”) from abroad poses a serious animal welfare issue and is actively opposed by the DSVP and, among others, Brigitte Bardot.