Despite the many historic alliances and cultural ties between Britain and France, the two countries now seem to be quite divided on one subject: eating horsemeat.
Britons have been unable to contain their outrage upon learning that certain frozen foods sold at local supermarkets were found to contain horsemeat. But across the Channel, French eaters remain loyal to certain delicacies like breaded horse brain, pan-fried horse heart, and horse steak, Reuters reports.
Horsemeat aficionados line up at horse butchers in Parisian backstreets to get their favorite meat, prepared with oil, lemon juice and pepper, according to Reuters. The fallout of the scandal has done little to rock their perception of a meat they call “a tastier and healthier alternative to beef.” The only thing they lament is the lack of availability — horse butchers are simply rare to come by these days.
(MORE: Horse – It’s What’s for Dinner)
Gerard Marin, a 67-year-old horsemeat fan who visits Paris’s horse butchers once a week, told Reuters that he understood why the Britons were upset when their beef turned out to be “old Romanian ponies” but he said people “don’t know what they are missing.”
Horsemeat lovers tout its health benefits: the protein is low in calories but rich in iron and cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. Their passion for the meat can be traced back to the Second French Empire, when horsemeat, originally a frugal living choice, made its way into high-end French restaurants. But it was actually illegal to consume until 1866, when the French government overturned the ban, citing the prohibitively high cost of pork and beef. According to The Telegraph, new horsemeat shops have been opening “everyday” in Paris since 2007 as people embraced horsemeat dishes and a group of young horsemeat eaters even formed a dining club called “Le Pony Club.”
France is not the only country that has a taste for the meat. Horsemeat is enjoyed across the world in Japan, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and China. Japanese people call the meat sakura, which means “cherry blossom,” because of its dark red color. In southern parts of China, a famous local dish is “Ma Rou Mi Fen,” horsemeat rice noodles. In Belgium, the meat, prized for its rich flavor, is a “dietary staple,” notes the New York Times.
(MORE: The Case for Eating Horse Meat)
According to National Geographic, horsemeat has a “lingering sweetness, which is not disagreeable.” But in certain parts of the world, like the United States and United Kingdom, eating the meat of the gentle giants just seems wrong. So then, why is one country’s favorite food another country’s taboo?
Boris Johnson, current mayor of London, seems to have an answer. In an op-ed published in the Telegraph, Johnson asserts that everything comes down to the power of the taboos. “Individually and collectively, people developed little electric fences in the mind, and by agreeing on what was taboo they defined themselves; they defined themselves in opposition to others; and they helped to create a crucial sense of identity.”