Saturday, 2 March 2013

I Could Eat a Horse

I could eat a horse. Or could I?

It’s strange how the more you research a subject the more you remove yourself from it. Take the horsemeat scandal currently pig jumping in the face of scurrilous backstreet traders in Britain. 

Naturally I was on the animals side. I could no more take my beloved horse to the yard, put a stun-gun to his head and whip him up into a fresh equine tartare, than I could skin my hunting cat. Yet I have found myself surfing the net and chatting to my blacksmith on the subject of horsemeat for neigh-on half a day. I’ve been surprised.

**           In Japan you can buy horsemeat ice cream. Basashi. Not exactly my go-to after dinner treat. I’d prefer lumps of chocolate through my vanilla swirl. Apparently it’s very chewy, yet low fat, so guilt free.  Ewww.

**           Winston Churchill loved horses; his passionate petition helped post World War I horses return to Britain. ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.’ He obviously wasn’t eyeing up a juicy flank steak to fill his belly when he said that. (Churchill also owned a number of cats, we would have got along.)

**           ”In Kazakhstan, there’is a dish sourced from almost every part of the animal, from the neck to the intestines and … (decided to edit that last morsel out). In Kyrgyzstan, horsemeat is traditionally consumed at big family gatherings.” Pony on a spit anyone?

**           "Horse and donkey meat was eaten in Britain, especially in Yorkshire the 1930s." Horse-shire pudding? 

**           One website said “…lack of historical taboo (in Asia) around this low fat protein has led to the development of a variety of delicious and innovative ways to consume Black Beauty and Co.” Pardon me. Eat Black Beauty? My first fictional horse love.

You see I was the seven year old who cantered everywhere, riding and BEING my imaginary pony. I imitated the perfect whinny and jumped everything in my path. Giddy-up Tonto.

My favourite TV show was, Dora at Follyfoot, an English drama set at a damp riding stable on a gloomy moor. The theme song still sends shivers up my spine. My bedroom walls were smothered in horsey collages. For birthdays and Christmases I was given books like, ‘For The love of Horses’ and ‘My Friend Flicka’. I scanned newspapers and magazines for anything to do with these adorable creatures. My scrapbook bulged with glossy show ponies and racehorse heads in black and white news print. If ‘Pony Mad Princess’ had been in print, I would have owned a boxed set.

It was my parent’s breakup that catapulted my equine love from the back garden to the corral. My stepfather-to-be flatted with the owner of a horse trekking business.  So my sister and I finally got to ride the real deal, not the 50cent plastic palomino outside Farmers. Tallyho and back to Singapore to visit Dad, and off to the Polo Club for riding lessons. Sweaty ponies with hogged mains, flicked at flies in the moist heat. We rode around a sawdust filled arena in jeans and Love-is t-shirts. Then returned home to Mum in New Zealand and begged for a pony. 

It didn’t take long until Wendy arrived - our very own grey mare. We took turns, or doubled, on the hills behind Havelock North and at pony club. Our riding improved, our desire deepened and we continued on our horsey way; gymkhanas, shows and the thunderous grounds of the hunting field. I didn’t wash my face the day I got blooded and kept my trophy, a hare’s ear, in my jewellery box beside my coral and pearl necklace for a decade. 

Thirty odd years later, I felt like I’d become a character in a Jilly Cooper novel when I donned jodhpurs, velvet hat and I rode my aforementioned horse. We have a combined age of 70 and hopefully will both go out in style, not to the knacker’s yard. 

NZ exports approximately 400,000kg of horsemeat a year. Russia and Belgium gobble up most of it. On the domestic market a steady trade in pet grade horsemeat is sold at the Mangere market, mainly to Tongans to make their traditional dish, Lo’ihosi. Horseflesh cooked up with coconut milk and onions for hours so it ends up tasting like, well, sweet and delicate apparently.

I doubt many kids in South Auckland are seen cantering about with imaginary riding crops whipping themselves over box hedges; then patting their proud and snorting mounts.  At $50 an 18kg box, horsemeat makes a super-value-meat-pack for any family, if you’re happy to eat it. 

Over the centuries, countries under siege or post war, whose populations were so hungry they could eat a horse, did. When working class Parisians couldn’t afford pork or beef, France overruled a 732 Papal ban and the first horse butchers appeared in 1866. They remained popular for two centuries.

Nowadays, the ‘Chevaline’, dotted among boutiques on the streets of Paris I visited as a teenager, have all but disappeared. It seems young Parisians are as squeamish as most of us, preferring chicken kebabs over pan fried heart of horse. 

They shoot horses don’t they? Yes, but not the greys. They are full of malignant melanomas. Horse cancer. ‘It’s disgusting.  Black spots all through them.’  So my blacksmith told me. He also said he wouldn’t eat horsemeat after witnessing what it did to the hounds when they ate it. ‘Weird stuff, it makes your hands oily.’

Enough. I led my freshly shod horse away and put him out to graze.

Through necessity or cultural preference humans eat horse and until the recent lasagne-gate the subject was a bit like male chickens; there but conveniently forgotten. We should be thankful that those meat slurry traders have been busted. Tighter regulations can only work in favour for man and beast. 

Thank heavens for summers abundance of courgettes. Ratatouille anyone?

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