Horse: friend or feast.

Anyone who lived through what I like to call the “Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett!?!” era of the early 90s – will know, quite viscerally, the extent to which the world is a very, very peculiar place sometimes.

Now, I have nothing against Lyle Lovett – as far as fringe alt-country crooners go, he’s great. Okay, so his hair is pretty stupid and he sometimes looks like a crocodile trying to get something out of his teeth, but his real problem is that he’s part of a group of men who I firmly believe should, for the good of society, be banned from ever actually being involved with any women, purely to spare us all from ever accidentally having a mental image of them having sex.

David Copperfield is the President-For-Life of this club, just in case you were wondering…

I want this to be clear, this is less a comment on the sexual desirability of Lyle Lovett or the appalling taste of Julia Roberts, and more a comment on the general peculiarity of life. I mean let’s not forget, this ‘life’ thing has given us drop-crotch pants for guys, dubstep and aspic (for anyone who doesn’t know what aspic is, go ask your granny; it’s essentially a salad preserved in jelly that for some inexplicable reason is usually moulded into the shape of a fish).

You’d think that by now we’d be used to oddities, general weirdness and the tenacious existence of ‘mom jeans’.

And yet we’re not. In fact it’s almost as though we’re comforted by our ability to be discomforted. The unexpectedness of, say, seeing Nicki Minaj becoming an Olympic lawn bowls gold medallist feeds the hardwired sense of righteous indignation we have that encourages us to throw our hands up in the air and go, “See!? Just like I’ve always said – lawn bowls/the Olympics/gold medals have never been the same since that Minaj woman got involved.” We’re deeply suspicious of the universe, and will go to great lengths to preserve our right to that suspicion.

I think this is why everyone is so gripped by the fact that apparently half of Europe has had a higher-than-expected quotient of pony in their cheeseburgers than they were previously led to believe (i.e. none). Outrage, disgust, disbelief and varying degrees of horror have gripped Britain for starters, and is slowly spreading as more and more countries realise that they too could have been dining on a bit of Daisy rather than the moo-cow that was advertised on the packet. Vast quantities of horse are turning up in lasagnes, burgers, bangers and pies – so much of it in fact, that I can’t help but be struck by one simple thought.

Until the labs got involved, how come no one noticed?

Seriously. It’s not like anyone, upon getting their Whopper at Burger King, took one bite and said, “Ooh, that tastes a bit horsey, don’t think I’ll have any more of those!” Nope, these horse-filled meals have apparently been selling just fine – which is why whoever made them carried on nefariously stuffing them full of pony. This surely means means one of two things; either that most ready-made meals and fast food is so terrible, that your burger could be made of parrot, monkey or sea-louse – and you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. Or, that horse is actually quite nice to eat.

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I know this is a horrific thought for some (or indeed most) people. Anecdotally, it seems to be the major theme of the distaste around the practice: “But we ride them, they’re more friends than animals.”

But I do wonder if what we really mean is, “They’re not ugly like cows, sheep or pigs,” which is alas the unfortunate trait that makes it easier for us to eat cows, sheep and pigs. I myself was taught to ride horses by my aunt, and have spent enough time around them to not just view them purely as great big things that sometimes try and kick you to death. Anyone who’s ever ridden, owned, had a poster of horse on their wall as a kid, or been a fan of My Little Pony (original or remake), will no doubt think I’m worse than a Nazi or someone who swindles people out of pensions for suggesting that horse-meat might actually have some culinary value, but I’m serious. How come no-one raised the alarm based on taste? (I also just want to say that I understand that this scandal is equal part ‘ew horsey’ and equal part ‘jeez how unregulated is our food industry that we don’t know what what’s going into it half the time?’: this episode happened to be pony, next time it’s radioactive waste)

I was at a party about a week ago, where the hostess had magnificent, angry bruising over most of her upper arm. It turns out one of her horses had tried to bite her, which is where she got the bruise. This, to me, made total sense, considering that it turns out we’ve been taking bites out of them for so long, that it’s only fair that the horses take whatever chances they get to return the favour.

Of course there are cultures who eat horse-meat all the time. The Japanese, Chinese, Russians, the Mexicans and to a lesser extent Italians, have no problems with it. And although we like to scoff at most of those cultures (especially the Chinese) for enjoying a good bit of poached cat or a yummy beetle on a stick (which we eagerly jump onto as a sign of cultural inferiority), they in turn look at things like the western mania for cow-milk as being just as disgusting. In Japan you are considered to smell like a horrid baby with your ‘milk breath’ and it greatly lowers their general estimation of you if that happens to be the case.

Now, what I want to know is what happens when all the new guaranteed ‘pony-free’ Whoppers start being served up to a chastened-but-hesitantly-returning public, and everyone who likes their Whoppers has this nagging and uncomfortable thought after the second or third bite; “hang on, this isn’t as delicious as it used to be.”

We should all be prepared to face the prospect that the horse was maybe the best bit. Like any of the times we discovered that the secret ingredient to those delicious minty peas we love so much was actually toothpaste (this happened on a scientific trip to the Antarctic an academic friend of my father once took), or that those artisanal rolls from the market you wolf down every weekend are actually kneaded in the armpit of the baker. It seems to me that generally we’re none the wiser to the less-than-savoury aspects of some of the food we consume, often in-between lip-smacking declarations of how good it is. Which suggests to me that most of us are comically insensitive to the food we eat. We can’t tell if the expired raw chicken has been taken off the shelves, given a chlorine bath and then re-packaged (as happened in SA two years ago), we can’t tell if the shepherd’s pie is not made of shepherd but in fact weasel, and apparently in a triumphant metaphoric vindication for the writers of Sweeney Todd, we didn’t detect a disturbance in the force when our eating was more equine than bovine, porcine or sheepine.

The answer? Easy. Stop buying cheap ready-meals from supermarkets and going to fast-food chains, ya dummies.

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