What is one Country’s Culture is Another’s Taboo | Horse Meat

Roughly 5 million tons of horse meat is consumed yearly by these 8 countries.

  • China
  • Italy
  • France
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • The Netherlands

In December 2011 American president Obama lifted a five-year ban on horse slaughter. Bringing a once taboo food to the tables of Americans. 70% of Americans oppose horse slaughter, will this lift bring nourishment and good proteins to many starving Americans? Only time will tell.

In Italy roughly 900 grams of horsemeat is consumed per person annually. Whereas, in Canada, about 2,000 tons of horse meat is consumed annually, mostly in Quebec. Canada is the main exporter of horse meat to Continental Europe and Japan, shipping roughly 20,000 tons of horse meat a year overseas.

What is one countries culture is another’s taboo.

Most of the English-speaking world, like: English Canada, UK, Ireland, USA and Australia eating horse meat is taboo. Thoughts on eating horse meat range from “it’s a poor mans food,” to “a horse is a companion, a pet.” Will this stigma towards horse meat change in the future? I think that depends hugely on the world’s financial crisis, horse meat is cheaper by the pound than beef and chicken!

In Italy horse meat is popular only in a few regions: Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Parma, Apulia and Sardinia.

Horse meat is high in protein, tender, sweet and is low in fat.

In Sardinia eating horse meat is as natural as eating a 14oz beef steak. It’s on all the restaurant menus, in the butcher shops and in all large supermarkets across the island.

The Sardinian’s love their horses. They raise them, ride them, have them as companions and eat perfectly grilled horse sirloin for lunch or dinner.

Husband is Sardinian and he loves his horse meat. It’s his culture and who am I to say it’s wrong? I can’t judge a culture by what they put on the table, by what customs they have had for centuries nor by what choices they make. Because in the end, it’s their culture. I am in their land, it is me who must conform, it is me who must understand the laws of their land.

What is one countries culture is another’s taboo.

I can’t change a culture, I can only educate and change myself.

Have I eaten horse? No. Will I? No. Why? Because it holds no interest for me. There are plenty of other meat options for me to enjoy like beef, chicken and pork.

Eating horse meat is not my culture and was never served to me as a young child (however, I did gag down copious amounts of liver, thanks Mom, but that was gross).

It certainly raises a few ethical questions. In some parts of the world the cow is sacred and not eaten, is then the horse also sacred? Or is it just over the centuries we have given the horse a ‘pet status,’ thus removing the stigma of horse meat being a poor mans dinner. For which it is not.

Should horses be spared, while we routinely slaughter cattle, pork and chickens?

**While doing research for this article, yesterday, I found an expat in The Netherlands who had just posted on the same topic. Read: Food Lines We Won’t Cross by Adventures in Expat Land. Because great expats think alike!

About Jennifer Avventura

Canadian Freelance writer living in Sardinia, Italy. A serial expat who has lived in Australia, England and Cayman Islands. She eats Nutella with a spoon and hides under the bed during lightning storms. When she's not out running 6k you will find her sitting at the computer - writing her novel and searching for worldwide waitress work.
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52 Responses to What is one Country’s Culture is Another’s Taboo | Horse Meat

  1. Good reading! At first I thought that the Canadians ate 2000 tons of horse meat each … but I recovered!

  2. Sipping Sardinia says:

    I have to admit this is a very brave post on such a controversial and delicate subject. If you are a vegetarian the question is: why meat? And if you are a meat eater: what is all the fuss about? I think we should always respect people’s feelings and be careful not to discard other cultures or beliefs. As for me, I have eaten horse meat in Sardinia and most likely I will try it again.

    • Thank you Aga. It really is a controversial topic and the more digging I did, I wondered if I should post it at all. But in the end, information is better than ignorance. We just need to respect people for who they are, or what they eat. We can only be the champion of our own bodies and if eating meat is not ones thing, don’t eat it. I was a strict veg-head for almost two years, I had to stop as I noticed my body craving meat. Thanks for reading.

  3. I love bresaola di cavallo and ravioli d’asino. Equine meat is one of the main reasons I love to visit The Veneto. I was not aware it was so common in Sardegna, I now feel like I missed out a bit 🙂
    Great post and my advice is to dive in as the unique and lovely flavor of a nice pony is a lovely experience. In France they make cheval burgers and they rock!

    Cheers!

  4. olivianp says:

    I’m from a small city in Indonesia: Tomohon. Here, we have a local food called ‘RW’ which is actually dogs meat..when I was a little kid I used to eat it because it’s quite delicious & spicy but when I grow up, I give it up because I love dogs. I posted about this few weeks ago in “Tomohon Traditional Market”.

  5. thirdeyemom says:

    I can’t even begin to think about eating horse meat! I can’t even eat cows anymore! But I agree sometimes you can’t judge another person’s culture. Hopefully the horses aren’t raised and treated like cows in the US and then slaughtered. That is my biggest beef (ha ha) about eating cows. When you drive out through Nebraska and Colorado and see the enormous, fully jam-packed animal stalls it makes me so sad. Plus I know it is bad for the environment as well.

    • There’s some people that question: what to do with aging Equine? Or, is it a waste to dispose of the horse meat, while there are starving people, all over the world. Could this meat, in fact, help victims of circumstance overcome a global hunger? Is it greed, and a Papal ban dating back to 732, that has kept millions of people worldwide from receiving their daily nourishment?

      It’s a question of ethics.

  6. Team Oyeniyi says:

    I think I’ll stick to kangaroo, thanks all the same. I’ve eaten my fair share of mortadella over the years, but even so…..

  7. Colline says:

    I am not so sure horse meat will help feed the hungry – isn’t it more expensive than beef?

    • From my research, during WWII is was cheaper than beef. Today, I believe it to be the same, please correct me if Im wrong, but I haven’t found anything to state otherwise. I don’t buy horse meat, so I wouldn’t know todays going rate. Thanks for checking in.

  8. I am shocked about President Obama lifting the ban (not that I even knew we had a ban back in the US). I cannot imagine many Americans would be eating horse meat due to a fairly strong cultural taboo against it. My sense is that there may be small groups or communities who might indulge, but there would likely be a public outcry when/if it starts showing up in grocery stores… I say ‘to each his own’ and I’ll just pass on eating any horse meat. Thanks for a great post and link to mine. Linda@adventuresinexpatland.com

  9. I had horse meat twice in France and i liked it, i know its taboo over here but i see no reason for not eating horse meat.

  10. Debra Kolkka says:

    I don’t feel inclined to eat horse. I felt guilty eating reindeer in Finalnd, but for the Finns it is as natural as eating beef. Poor Rudolf!

  11. Woman says:

    I never ate much “strange” foods while I lived in my parents home. We had our traditional Polish meals and other common North American foods.

    It wasn’t till I moved out did the world open up to my eyes of culture and in that culture foods.

    Narwhal, caribou, seal were the first.. and yes. I got lots of slack for consuming such animals. Then I came to China which opened up a whole new world for my palate to test out. Basically, anything that is not going to kill a human can be served at a dinner. Dog, cat, scorpion, bugs, camel, snakes, grass, donkey and so many others… it’s actually quite interesting to see what is served here. I have to admit, that although I’ve tried dog, and it was really delicious, the guilt I felt from eating “man’s best friend” was present.

    I have one rule while travelling. I have to try everything. That way I can say with honesty, that I’ve tried it and don’t like it or I’ve tried it and I can then say no to it again.

    Fantastic post Jenny darling!!!

  12. I live in China and yes in some places they eat cat and dog. I haven’t gone in search of it, but I know it is there. I have always had a rule not to eat anything that has a cute face… It started after I found out about veal, which I loved, but when I discovered what it was I couldn’t eat it anymore… Some enjoy different meats and as you say it could be what they enjoy or can afford.

    I have tried a few things to say I have… like kangaroo and crocodile in Australia
    I have eaten things that I was tricked into like moose, deer and certain kinds of fish to be told it was something else.

  13. tinatangos says:

    Horse meat is very much eaten in Puglia. I felt really weird about it but decided that I had to at least try it. So upon my arrival in Lecce I ordered the traditional pezzetti di cavallo al sugo. It’s alright – I find horse meat to be too sweet for my taste and prefer beef any day of the week. 🙂

    • Ciao Tina. Thanks for your comment. I’m not that type of person who says ” I have to try it.” If it interests me, then ok, but horse meat holds no interest for me. I’m not really that big of a meat eater anyway, which is probably the main reason why. If I were, Im sure my opinion on eating horse would change.

  14. Sunshine says:

    Very interesting subject and thank you for bringing it to light. I think I’d have to pass on eating horses. But, never say never is my thinking. 😉

  15. Jeff Sinon says:

    You are right on the money that it is a cultural thing. For instance, in India I believe cows are sacred, in the U.S. they are yummy 🙂 I’m a pretty adventurous eater willing to try almost anything once, but I have to say I would draw the line at any animal considered a pet. But I can’t fault, and don’t judge other cultures that don’t feel that way.

    One thing in your post I feel needs correction though. Liver is not gross, it is oh so tasty 😀

  16. kendrafowler says:

    Great topic and loved the way you have delivered your opinion about it. Eating a Horse?? OMG, Its too cruel even to think of it, let alone eating it. I am passionate about animals especially pets and Horses are such magnificent creatures!!

    Like you, I do not have any problem with the others eating it, If they like it, let them eat it, no problem. But never will I!!

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  18. Jo Bryant says:

    When I lived in Holland was the first time I was confronted with horse meat in a supermarket. It threw me and I could never bring myself to eat it though I did eat zebra in Africa…which honestly…was scrumptious.

  19. I tasted some horse meat in Kazakhstan last year. I can’t say it was great, but not bad either. I understand cows, sheep and goats are all in favour of people eating horses.

  20. Connie T says:

    In Nevada, they used to sell horse meat, probably 30 years ago. It didn’t sell, so they stopped selling it.

  21. I don’t like thinking about where meat comes from! And:no, thanks: I’d definately pass on horse-meat.

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  26. Interesting that Sardinians can love horses but also eat them! but I wonder why we look at cows and rabbits so deferently, and even pigs. I have problem eating Pig – they are so cute! In Portugal they roast baby piglets whole – I find this distressing as the whole baby pig is roasted on a spit. When I look at the picture of the horse in my post, he looks so cute I could not bear to then serve it up as meat.

  27. Zafar says:

    Great photo. The menu looks familiar. It isn’t from a restaurant on the main street of Porto Torres is it? I have had many dishes that look like this in Italy, France and Spain. I think they marinate the cutlets in olive oil, vinegar, lemon and herbs. Then they just flash grill it for a few minutes. I think it is delicious and does not conjure up any notion of being gamey.

    When you see these particular breeds raised they are marvelous to look at. Their hind quarters are very developed. They remind me of the Belgium Blue of cows. I love Sardinia!

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  29. Paul says:

    Well, I was born and raised in Sardinia but since my mother didn’t like Horse or donkey meat, I grew up on pork, lamb and veal meat. To this day I cannot get myself to eat them, but I don’t criticise others for doing it…..

  30. Simon says:

    I have a pet fish….? ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ
    Great post Jennifer, I can’t keep away from Sardegna & I just love the suckling pig, it’s one of my favourites. Palau is the place to which I drift during my few quite moments, I dream of living there but know I cannot and never will. I would trade all I had in the UK for a mud hut in Sardegna, drifting around those stunning islands of which Spargi is simply heaven on earth. Sorry’bout the short ramble,…..couldn’t resist.

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