Horsing around

I’m mot sure about all this fuss surrounding hamburgers containing horsemeat. OK, so the Tesco Everyday Value burger containing 29 per cent horse is a little hard to swallow, in every sense. But the other burgers tested only contained traces of horse DNA.

I know, I know. If you buy beef, you should actually get beef. Not horse. And particularly not pig, as that provokes all kinds of religious complications. And we should definitely have no ambiguity in where, or what, our meat is, after all our British beef scandals. But in fact horsemeat is lean and, dare I say it, very tasty.

I went to stay with my lovely godmother in France when I was about nine and I vividly remember being taken to the Boucherie Chevaline. I was crazy about horses at the time, and I remember asking what the red-painted shop with a big horse’s head sign was. I expect I was hoping for riding lessons. But no, inside were slabs of bright fresh meat and that smell of warm sawdust you get in butchers’ shops. I don’t remember whether we bought the meat.  I don’t remember eating it. But I do remember, in my first job, I had to go and stay in a pit of a hotel in Strasbourg while working at the European parliament. One evening, feeling even more exhausted and penniless than usual, I saw a little restaurant close to the hotel and went in. It had a very short menu, and ‘faux fillet’ was the cheapest thing on it. I kind of knew-but-didn’t-know what that really meant. I ordered it anyway. I remember the waiter was a total pest, trying to chat me up, and I had to pretend to be glued to my book to get rid of him. But the steak was very, very good indeed. Delicious, in fact. Yes, it was horse.

So, while horse may not be what Tesco burger consumers ordered, it may actually be rather yummy anyway. And aren’t we being rather silly, with all our taboos about what we will and won’t eat? Apparently, also during my stay in France as a child, I ventured out onto the balcony one day and found two rabbits in a cage. ‘How lovely, what are their names?’ I asked my godmother’s daughter. ‘They’re called ‘Lunch”, she said, in a perfect, Gallic matter-of-fact way. I’ve been told I ran off screaming, but I don’t remember that either. I have since eaten rabbit, though. I’m still  not keen.

The girls and I were talking about it in the car this morning on the way to school. ‘It’s  all just a matter of convention. The Chinese eat dogs, after all, no reason why we shouldn’t eat, say, hamsters,’ I said. Oooops. Too late, I remembered that Child One had had a succession of well-beloved pet hamsters. ‘Hamsters?’ she said. I was braced for an angry barrage, possibly even tears.

‘But there’s not nearly enough meat on a hamster,’ she said. Maybe she has French blood?

A French boucherie chevaline, or horse butchers

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