Horses, or to be more specific, dead horses, have been galloping away with the headlines in Europe this week following revelations that horse meat has been turning up on dinner plates, masquerading as beef in bolognaise (or ''bologneighs'', as it has become known), lasagne, burgers and assorted creations featuring mincemeat. The expression ''I'm so hungry I could eat a horse'' has taken on a whole new relevance.
Cynics may argue that if you are prepared to eat meat, it shouldn't make any difference whether it's from a horse, cow, elephant, kangaroo, giraffe or three-toed sloth. But in Britain people simply don't eat horses _ or rather, they didn't think they ate horses. For a start, the French used to be partial to horse cuisine, which in itself is enough to put off the British.
Horses hold a certain noble status in British culture and eating them isn't in the script. The horse is considered fondly, almost like a pet. Not that you would want one in your living room. They are up there with dogs as regards loyalty and companionship. And you simply don't eat companions. Some Brits feel ill just at the thought of eating horse. All they need to do is think about Black Beauty or Trigger and it's enough to give them the collywobbles. In actual fact, they are more likely to be eating a Romanian carthorse.
Where's the beef?
It didn't take long for the horse meat jokes to surface. They are, of course, all in bad taste with the most painful puns imaginable. Prepare yourself for a few quick groans:
''Try our burgers, low in fat, but high in Shergar.''
''I had a burger last night and still have a bit between my teeth.''
''It's all part of a stable diet.''
''I had beef lasagne for the mane course and now I've got the trots.''
''Our products are unavailable today as they're running at the 1.20 at Newmarket, the 2.30 at Aintree and the 3.20 at Chepstow.''
A horse with no name
Like many kids of my generation , my knowledge of horses was limited to those I saw in the old TV Westerns, most notably The Lone Ranger, starring Clayton Moore and his wonderful horse Silver.
The series had a memorable opening each week, ignited by the sounds of the William Tell Overture and the voice-over booming in with: ''A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi-yo Silver'.'' The opening sequence always concluded with the announcement: ''From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!''
There's no way that anyone who saw Silver in action would ever eat horsemeat.
Someone who may well have watched Silver on the screen is Britain's Princess Anne, who was a top equestrian sportswoman. She became so closely identified with horses that she famously observed in 1977. ''When I appear in public, people expect me to neigh, grind my teeth, paw the ground and swish my tail _ none of which is easy.''
Too much to swallow
When I was kid there was a popular Burl Ives novelty song entitled, I Know an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a Fly). It begins with ''I don't know why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she'll die.'' The old lady, who apparently had bit of an appetite, goes on to swallow a spider ''that wiggled insider her'' , followed by a bird ''quite absurd'', cat ''fancy that'' dog, goat and a cow ''I don't know how''.
The final line goes: ''There was an old woman who swallowed a horse _ she's dead of course.''
Which just goes to show, eating horses is not good karma.
Paws for thought
I've probably eaten horse meat without realising it, but wouldn't go looking for it. In this part of the world, another four-legged creature sometimes cannot avoid the cooking pot, despite being ''man's best friend''. It's no secret there are many Thai hounds that end up as dogballs or sausages, or may even find themselves in one of the more exotic curries. I suspect that over the years, some of the meatballs I've heartily consumed in noodle shops may have started off life as Rover or Spot.
In parts of Chiang Mai, dog meat is still popular. You would have thought Thailand had such an abundance of tasty food it would be unnecessary to resort to eating friendly Fidos. Apparently customers believe dog meat keeps them warm during the cool season. Black dogs are most favoured for the most popular delicacy ''gaeng shadow''. So if you have a hound called Blackie or Dam, you might be advised to keep an eye on them.
During the 2002 World Cup, the English tabloids became obsessed with the Koreans' fondness for canine cuisine. Any match that did not come up to expectations was immediately dubbed a ''dog's dinner''.
Spain's coach Jose Antonio Camacho won the unofficial public relations prize by a wet nose and a soft paw by being photographed clutching a cute puppy rescued from the cooking pot by a television crew. The hound was duly named ''Camachin'' and became the team's official mascot, which had to be a better fate than ending up in a stew. Unfortunately Spain played like a dog's dinner.
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About the author
- Writer: Roger Crutchley