Author Jerry Hopkins, writing in
Strange Foods: Bush Meat, Bats and Butterflies–An Epicurean Adventure
Around the World, says prehistoric humans hunted and ate horses. He
believes the ancients may have raised horses for eating before they got
the notion to ride them.
Research by England’s University of Exeter, reported in the journal
Science in early 2009, credits the Botai culture of Kazakhstan as
the first to domesticate horses some 5,500 years ago. Exeter’s team of
international researchers says the Botai had a fully pastoral economy
based upon the horse. The animals were used as beasts of burden–both for
hauling and riding, for meat, and for milk. Having domesticated the
equine, Botai tribesmen enjoyed advantages in transportation, warfare,
farming, and communications.
From that point forward, the horse became a vital cog in the world
economy. They were tools of work, commerce, industry, and war. If they
didn’t succumb to the rigors of daily life–both humane and inhumane,
work-related injuries, or battle, they were sold for salvage. The money
an owner got in return went to pay for a younger, stronger horse to take
its place (similar to trading in one automobile toward the purchase of
another). Once sold, horses, mules, and ponies went to an easier job
they were still suited for, to the rendering plant, to the butcher. They
were re-purposed as leather, as horse hair in furniture, as glue,
gelatin, and cosmetics, as dog food, and for human consumption.
Soldiers and civilians the world over ate horse meat as a matter of
survival during WWI and WWII. In pre-war Europe, it was peasant food;
food for the masses. Amid WWII government price controls and rationing,
horse meat appeared in American butcher shops from California to New
Jersey. It sold for roughly half the price of beef. Post-Depression
American consumers preferred beef, but the troops’ need for protein was
paramount. Horse meat provided a superior protein source that tasted
better than Spam.
Millions in Europe and Japan were facing starvation following surrender.
For that reason, in 1945, Senator Mike Mansfield (D-MT), urged fellow
lawmakers to increase the amount of horse meat included in foreign food
relief. Noting it was high in protein and “highly palatable,” sending
horse meat abroad meant more beef was available for Americans
[Hurt 2008, 141].
Today, horse meat remains popular in Europe and Japan–not just as a
delicacy–but as a staple. It is consumed in Austria, Belgium, Canada,
Chili, China, France, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malta,
Mongolia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Switzerland, and
the United Kingdom. In Sweden, it outsells mutton and lamb combined.
Italy consumes more horse meat than any other country in the European
American animal rights advocates decry foreign consumption as barbaric
and taboo. Judaism and Hinduism forbid the consumption of horsemeat.
Islam prohibits eating donkeys. Christianity’s only specified taboo
against eating horse flesh was issued in 732 A.D., by Pope Gregory III
[Sherman 2002, 57].
The non-biblically-based canon law was meant to protect horses which
were too valuable to be sacrificed for the table. Instead, they were
pressed into service by the church-sponsored cavalry at a time when
Christianity was under attack from Muslim cavalry.
Hurt, R. Douglas. 2008. The Great Plains during World War II. U
of Nebraska Press
Sherman, David M. 2002. Tending Animals in the Global Village.