Sunday, 20 January 2013

So what’s wrong with eating horsemeat?

OK, so I’m happy to see Tesco seriously embarrassed by the noise over horsemeat in some of its economy burgers. I get fed up with all its self-righteous twaddle about providing value for money when it uses every underhand marketing trick in the book to squeeze as much as possible out of shoppers. But it has made me wonder why people are so enraged at the thought of eating horsemeat.

It’s not just that there are parts of the world where they tuck into equine flesh, or other animals that make us Brits turn up our noses, with gusto. But I would bet that it’s wound up in plenty of things that go through a messy industrial process and wind up in the bargain shelves and cabinets of the supermarkets.

I’ve never knowingly eaten horsemeat, but I’m not disturbed at the thought that I may well have done so unknowingly at some time. The fact is that we tuck into lots of meat products – pies, sausage rolls, processed slices with different names – that have all the odds and ends from dead animals that we would rather not think about. I suspect that the companies who produce this go for the cheapest option on buying their raw material and horse creeps in more often than anyone would admit. You just accept that if you buy cheap meat products you get what you pay for.

I’ve accepted for years that I’m eating things that the manufacturers would want to keep quiet, and as long as it doesn’t poison me I’m not going to make a fuss as long as they  don’t make dishonest claims about it being high quality, unadulterated beef, lamb, pork, chicken or whatever. And if we happily eat cows, pigs and sheep, and do pretty horrible things in raising them as food, why should we get so squeamish over horses?

Probably because we’ve been brought up on movies and TV programmes in which horses had some unspoken empathy with human beings – think Black Beauty or Champion the Wonder Horse – or run around a racecourse to give us a moment of excitement. Who would have wanted to eat Red Rum?

But people in other parts of the world don’t feel like that, and I don’t quite buy into it. And if you want to draw a parallel with domestic animals, I’m in no hurry to eat a cat or dog, but I’d do so if I was facing starvation, and I’ll quite happily tuck into stewed rabbit.

And if I’m ever somewhere that it’s on the menu and I receive a recommendation, I’ll eat a horse.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

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