My husband is gradually becoming a more adventurous eater, but when we last traveled in Europe, he rarely ate between Burger King stops. He was especially stymied by Slovenia, where the food seemed suspiciously gloopy and sour. So he was thrilled when we found a pub serving burgers. I still have a picture of him happily savoring his sandwich - completely unaware that a poster on the wall behind him revealed his burger was made from horsemeat.
In many cultures, it's considered normal to eat horse. But Americans are devoutly opposed to the practice, which is why M. Wells Dinette--a spin-off of the defunct and esteemed Queens restaurant, M. Wells--yesterday pulled horse from its menu. "We took it off because it upset so many people, which truly surprised us," the owners explained in a statement quoted by the New York Times. "That is not the effect we look for in our food, so away it goes."
According to the Times, Dinette hadn't yet started serving horse tartare. But prospective customers and officials of MoMA P.S. 1, the museum which houses the restaurant, made clear that the dish wouldn't meet with the warm reception that greeted chef and co-owner Hugue Dufour's horse bologna sandwiches when he offered them at Brooklyn's Great GoogaMooga food festival earlier this year. Dufour and his wife, co-owner Sarah Obratis, reportedly received e-mail messages threatening their safety.
Even the most dedicated omnivore can recognize the hypocrisy here. Customers didn't protest the veal, rabbit or foie gras on yesterday's menu, although all three proteins have a history of provoking outcry from skittish meat eaters (and vegetarians, who here stand on higher moral ground.) They held their fire for the horse, so to speak, their rational thinking apparently clouded by memories of Silver and Black Beauty.
There are plenty of good philosophical, religious and health reasons to abstain from meat-eating. But there are no defensible reasons to pick and choose amongst animals with robust populations. Indeed, the narrowing of our diets is utterly at odds with the sustainable food system that so many of us claim to support.
As Andrew Gunther made clear in his Chefs Collaborative presentation earlier this week, the planet is worse off because of our insistence on eating so much chicken. We can't produce the feed the world's flocks need without wreaking environmental havoc, which means it might be wise to diversify our diets.
That's not an easy task: Mashiko's Hajime Sato this year told me about a reception he catered after a documentary featuring a sushi chef who'd shifted from bluefin tuna to black cod. "This woman was watching it, and she thought she was going to get black cod," Sato said. "I said no, and she freaked out. She said 'Oh my God, I thought we were getting this. What's the point of being here?' That's sad, because the whole point is don't get stuck on any one product."
If we must eat meat, we need to look at different products. And horse - which is about as intelligent as pig, an animal Americans eat with abandon - might be a good place to start.