July 15, 2008

They eat horses, don't they?

In the spirit of summer vacation and not working much -- indeed, not working at all -- I'm taking the lazy route this week and recycling a story some of you may have read. To most it will be new fare. Don't forget the barbecue sauce:

The passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to "prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption" may, if the Senate concurs, render illegal the work of Beltex, Cavel and Dallas Crown, the three foreign-owned horse slaughter plants located in the U.S that kill horses and ship the meat to France, Italy, Belgium and Japan, where people buy the flesh in restaurants and in their grocers' meat cases. (Appaloosa al fredo... pan-fried Friesian... Quarterhorse cutlets... marinated Morgan...)

Dana, my resident horse lover, has been to three of those four countries, and to five other countries where equine equals entree and, until our last trip to France, I’d been able to keep the awful horse-eating truth from her. “Cheval” in a store window? “Maybe they sell tack.” A horse head cut-out above a grocery store door?
“The owners must love horses.”

Now that she’s older and can’t be fooled or fibbed to, Dana knows: People eat the animals she loves.

A few months ago we rented an apartment in Thonon-les-Bains on the southern, French shore of Lake Geneva, and we’d spend an hour of each day in the Intermarche, a big-box grocery store, stocking up on baguettes and brie, wine and water, and fun things to pack for lunches on the road and dinners on the patio. The four of us would fan out, and each person would scout down his or her desired comestibles. We’d meet at the grocery cart, throw in our finds, then continue until we’d covered all the aisles.

We weren’t two minutes into our first Intermarche reconnaissance mission when Dana found the shrink-wrapped styrofoam packages of horse steak, arrayed pleasantly between the beef and chicken.

Cheval! This is HORSE!”

Yes, Dana, it is.”

“They eat horses here?”

“Yes, sweetie, they do.”

While Dana stared down at the flourescent-lit meat case and processed this evil news, Adam loaded up on beef. He was consistent in his Intermarche purchases, having zeroed in early on what he liked, then sticking with it for the whole week. Every day, he bought apricots, Pepsi and steak. I’d saute the thin steak in olive oil, and Adam would layer it inside a baguette. That saved me a little dishwashing over the course of the week, as he used little silverware. Nearly all his meals were eaten with one hand.

Near the end of our stay, on one of our last trips to Intermarcheland, Adam zoomed to the meat case for his beef fix. Dana went with him. He chose carefully. He picked up several packages, inspected them, then settled on the best-looking steak of the lot. Happy with his choice, he doubled back to produce to score a few apricots.

Dana let him get almost to the checkout lanes then said, “Adam, your steak is horse.”

“What, Dana?”

“Look at the label. Cheval. That means horse. You’re going to eat horse.”

Adam dropped foreign languages in high school as soon as he had enough credits to satisfy college entry requirements. He hadn’t read the meat package label, but couldn’t have deciphered it if he had. He’d chosen solely on the sweet, pink look of the meat.

“Gross," he said to Dana.


The horse went back to the meat case, and Adam replaced it with a piece of cow destined to be browned in olive oil and served on a baguette.