HORSE BURGERS? IT’S NO JOKE!
As soon as the news came out this week that people in the UK had, unknowingly, been eating burgers containing horsemeat, the jokes started.
After all, it’s not difficult to think up a joke. Here is a “crop” I managed to “whip” up myself in the space of a few minutes.
“I think these burgers are past their sell-by date… And they’re off! Certainly, they’ve been giving me the trots all evening….”
“I’ve got a really great recipe for burgers. Just add a dash of Red Rum…”
“Well, I guess we know what happened to Shergar now….After all, a spoonful of Shergar helps the hot burgers go down ….”
And so on. But, deep down, I’ve been feeling deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing.
After all, finding out that people have been eating horses is no laughing matter. And, as we’re always being told, the British love their animals, don’t they?
Now, I don’t wish to get up on my high horse here, but, thankfully, as a vegan for over 20 years, I am relieved that there is nothing more equine in my veggie burgers than horseradish.
But I was, nonetheless, curious as to just why people were treating this “horses for main courses” revelation with humour rather than, perhaps, disgust and revulsion?
I guess, after all, people have long had a personal a“filly”ation with horses. Growing up, many of us read and wept over the classic story of Black Beauty. Other fictional horsey heroes, both in books and on TV followed, with Follyfoot Farm, Flambards etc.
And, perhaps some of us were even lucky enough to have had riding lessons. I still have friends who, at the mention of horses, have a long-lost look in their eyes, as they recall favourite horse friends, past and present.
Perhaps, people have been on holiday, and have had the pleasure, as I have had, of coming face-to-face with the beautiful, wild horses in the New Forest. Horses, which I was later saddened to be told, were often destined for the horsemeat trade in France.
At school, we used to laugh at our French neighbours who ate horsemeat. It was all so grim, and “uncivilised”. “Well, that’s the French,” we used to laugh, hiding our revulsion behind a shameful joke at our neighbours’ expense.
But now, it seems, perhaps all this was closer to home than we had ever imagined.
And then, other revelations have since come out. They are now saying that some salami contains donkey meat. Donkey? The thought sends a shiver through me as I recall memories of donkey rides on Blackpool sands. Nowadays, I even sponsor a donkey in the Donkey Sanctuary who “writes” to me twice a year. And, as for literature, well, there’s Eeyore, for heavens’ sake.
I feel that the jokes are made as an instinctive reaction. A defence mechanism to deflect from the true horror of this discovery.
But why, the question has to be asked, is it any worse to eat horses than to eat cows?
After all, they are both big, strong animals, have four legs and hooves and eat grass. What’s the difference?
Is this, then, a case of people identifying with the horse on a one-to-one, individual basis? Do we just think of cows as being members of a seemingly anonymous group? As cattle? As a herd? Not to be identified with individually? Whatever would the Magic Roundabout’s Ermintrude say?
So, why don’t people identify with the cow as they do with the horse? Why are there no jokes about burgers containing meat from a cow? Why does this not disgust or surprise? Except for those of us who are vegetarians and vegans and who never stop feeling shock that people eat cows, or indeed other animals, at all.
But, I believe that, deep down, we have not lost that inherent connection with cows at all. For many people, of course, mainly in India, the cow is sacred.
But, even closer to home, we can restore that connection. For instance, at the age of eight, I stayed on a small farm in Wales. And I can still remember to this day, the names and colours of all those cows who lined up in the barn every night:
Peggy, Tina, Jane, Daisy, Ann, Gwyneth, Suzie, Sally, Mary, Matilda, and Belle.
I can still tell you that Peggy was a fierce cow, prone to charging with her horns; that Jane was a soft, gentle, Jersey cow; that Matilda was a large, placid, brown-and-white cow, that Belle was a Friesian (especially on cold nights!)
The memory still delights. I just won’t allow myself to dwell on what might have become of them subsequently.
It’s probably no wonder then that this experience perhaps set up me up for subsequently becoming a vegetarian, and later a vegan.
I remember once walking through a field of cows with a friend. I had just started to remark on how lovely the cows were looking, and what pretty faces they had, when my friend started to warn me: “Don’t say anything, just don’t say anything, because if you do, then I’m going to have to become a vegetarian.”
Guys, let’s stop horsing around. If you really like and care about animals, then don’t eat them in burgers, sausages or any other form. Horses or cows, it makes no difference.
There are some great vegan and vegetarian burgers on the market. You can still have your barbecues but with wonderful vegan burgers and sausages from companies like Fry’s, Redwoods and Goodlife, or make your own from nuts, grains, seeds and vegetables.
Go vegetarian, or better still, go vegan. You know it makes horse-sense!
For vegan and vegetarian burgers and sausages:
Or, to make your own, vegetarian and vegan burgers: