Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Horse Flesh as Human Food.

In yesterday’s post about the food situation for in the South African town of Ladysmith during the almost four months of siege conditions in 1899-1900, the focus was on horse meat. The response to the meat – even in very hungry people – was very varied, some being unable to face it even with starvation imminent.

The huge range of availability and desirability of horse-flesh as food was well accepted decades before the events at Ladysmith. In the 1860’s in Europe and England there was a widespread campaign to improve the popularity of the meat, largely because of the relative shortage and expense of beef – the intended recipients being the ‘poorer sort,’ of course. Banquets were held in London and Paris, with the dishes on the menu made up entirely or almost-entirely of horse-meat. The campaigns were more successful in France, where horse-meat was not unfamiliar, and was believed to have health benefits.

In April 1917, Leo Price, a veterinarian in the employ of the New York Department of Health, presented a paper on Horseflesh as Human Food to the New York City Veterinary Medical Association.  The quotation in the front of the book is worth repeating here, as it could comfortably sit in the same position in a food book published today, a century later:

“Public health is purchasable. Within natural limitations a community can determine its own death rate.”

Price’s work is readable, well-researched, scientific, and addresses the prejudices as well as the nutritional aspects of horse-meat as human food. I include some extracts from the paper, and hope you find them interesting (I left out the statistics, and much of the out-dated chemistry, and the health and safety aspects!)

Historical Outline. The use of horselesh as a human food is as early a custom as that of using the flesh of the other food producing animals. Archeologists have unearthed proof of its use by the caveman in northern Europe. That this custom was in progress long before the time of Moses, is evident by the prohibitive clause
in the Mosaic Law against the consumption of horsemeat. Hippocrates refers to it use and Herodotus describes it as an early custom that prevailed from the extreme East to the Ural M0untains.
Later, Xenophon, Pliny and Galen gave records of its use among the early Persians, Greeks and Romans. The Saxon tribes that occupied northern Europe sacrificed the horse as the most noble animal to their gods Odin and Freya, and accompanied the ceremonies of the sacrifices with great feasts in which the eating of horseflesh was customary. It was in their zeal to spread Christianity and to remove all signs of pagan worship and sacrifice, that Pope Gregory III and his successor Zacharais I sent to St. Boniface, the Christian apostle in the Germanic countries, edicts prohibiting the use of horseflesh. These decrees were also issued to the people of Iceland, among whom hippophagy was so popular, that it was only in the year 1000, three centuries later, that the people openly discontinued this custom.
The nomadic tribes of Tartars, Kirghis and Kalmucks wandering about southeastern Russia and its Asiatic possessions have used horsemeat for a long time and were extremely fond of it.
In Persia, asses were considered a delicacy, and throughout Asia the eating of horseflesh was customary. The Chinese had used horseflesh for ages and according to Ostertag had even developed a special breed of “fat” horse, that was characterized by its delicate bone structure, fattening powers and savory meat.
A few centuries ago during the period of exploration and discovery, the following information appears in regard to the use of horseflesh.
Phillips writes of the use of the flesh of horses, asses and mules by the Moors in Tunis, Algiers, and also of the presence of a species of small horse that was raised solely for food purposes by negroes in Juida, Africa. In Marmol, Africa, wild
horses were used for food by the natives. In South America, French and English explorers' repeatedly mention the use of the flesh of wild and domestic horses for food purposes, as a custom in the various countries. Sir Francis B. Head stated that the Pampas ate the flesh of mares, which they never rode. Delvaille refers to
the natives of Bolivia as preferring horsemeat, and others state that hippophagy was in vogue in Chili and among the Patagonians.
During the French Revolution the Parisians used horseflesh constantly for six months without bad results. To what extent and whether the custom of eating horsemeat was popular or prevalent among the people of the European countries prior to the beginning of the nineteenth century could not be determined but it appears that later its sale and use was gradually permitted by the various governments as a necessary or progressive measure.
Thus, in 1807, in Denmark when the Danes were under siege, this measure was officially adopted. Larrey, the famous surgeon to the armies of Napoleon, used horsemeat to feed the sick and convalescent soldiers in the various campaigns and mentions its use in combating a scurvy epidemic. In 1840, Munich, and in 1855, Germany, permitted the sale and use of horseflesh. Vienna sanctioned its public sale in 1854. In France, Decroix, St. Hilare and others had publicly agitated the use of horsemeat for many years and finally succeeded in influencing the government to authorize its sale and use on July 9, 1866. Horsemeat is now publicly sold in the other European countries with various degrees of popularity.
Use in Europe and United States. In 1889, a regulation was passed in Great Britain permitting the sale of horsemeat. N0 statistics of the extent of the use of horsemeat in Great Britain were available. There lately appeared the following in the London Meat Trade Journal: “Shops for the sale of horseflesh are being introduced into every large town. The high price of beef, mutton, and pork is giving horseflesh an opportunity to acquire favor, and if the present cost of living continues after the war, horse-flesh may become a permanent article of food.” (Quoted from the Butcher’s Advocate.)
In France, the use of horsemeat has been marked by an increasing public demand, as may be seen from the following statistical data. These are incomplete and probably underestimated.
Ostertag states that two-thirds of the horsemeat is manufactured into sausages and also that more than 100,000 of the 600,000 families in Paris use horsemeat. In 1910, twenty-nine million pounds of horsemeat was produced for consumption in Paris and its environs.
…. Horsemeat has a deep dark red color, bordering almost to a brown or black and a bluish sheen appears on exposure to air. On section, the fascia is very prominent, and the absence of intermuscular fat and the lack of the marbling quality is very noticeable. Leach describes horseflesh as having a coarser texture,
and short muscle fibres as a rule; Edelman describes the fibres as very fine; Huidekoper refers to the flesh of asses and mules as having a finer grain than that of the horse. The bone-marrow is soft, greasy and wax-like, of a yellow color and stiffens when exposed to air. The offal of the horse, ass, or mule, like the offal from the other food producing animals, may be grouped into edible, inedible and therapeutic by-products.
 …. Considerable opposition is also due to the sentimental feeling for an animal as domesticated as the horse. Any such sentimental feeling must be regarded as inconsistent in view of the fact that other completely domesticated animals are slaughtered for food purposes. Indeed it would be an act of mercy well earned
by many a faithful horse, that has lost his early vigor, to be sent to the abattoir, rather than to allow him to fall into the hands of some huckster or cruel driver to be underfed and overworked to a gradual death.
Horsemeat is conceded to be a wholesome and nutritious food by eminent authorities in this country and abroad.
The use of horseflesh for human food should also be considered from the standpoint of public welfare, and as an improving economic measure. It offers an economical acceptable flesh food especially for the workers who are unable to afford the luxury of the present high priced meats, and still find it desirable or necessary to have meat a part of their daily diet.
It seems indeed unreasonable that so much valuable food should be wasted, in the face of the privations that exist among the poorer population in the larger cities. Here the foreign element have in the majority of cases been initiated to the eating of horseflesh in their native land, and would gladly accept this product in view of its proportionately lower price.
The opposition to horsemeat on the grounds of its physical characteristics is unjustified. The taste of manufactured products or culinary preparations may be so disguised as to make recognition impossible. Certain preparations of horsemeat are relished and preferred by those who have not allowed prejudice to get the better of personal taste. A slight sweetness of taste is considered one of the qualities of horsemeat, while toughness is not necessarily characteristic of horsemeat any more than it is of any other meat, but depends rather upon the age, sex and condition of the particular animal which it has been derived from.
Ostertag refers to Pfliiger as mentioning that when horsemeat is used exclusively it is apt to cause diarrhea, which is directly due to a substance present in horseflesh that is soluble in alcohol and passes over into the meat broth when horsemeat is cooked. This material consists of 75% lecithin and 25% of neutral fat and cholesterin. This injurious efiect is in some manner avoided when the meat broth is poured off or when horsemeat is prepared together with beef or mutton tallow. Huidekoper states that horsemeat should always be broiled or roasted.
 …. Summary.
Horsemeat has been used as a food since ancient times, to the present day, in different parts of the world.
Some of the opposition to the use of horseflesh is an inherited prejudice, arising from early religious restrictions.
The opposition on the ground of its peculiar properties is unjustified.
Horsemeat may be considered a wholesome, nutritious and economical food.
Horsemeat should be sold under special regulations, to prevent adulteration and substitution.
Every possible precaution should be exercised to eliminate glanders in horses offered for food.
According to certain writers horsemeat should be prepared in a certain manner.

So, one of the issues related to horse-meat as human food was the deceitful substitution for beef. The practice is not confined to history – I am sure you will remember a recent incident which made the news.

Sausages, of course, are the classical way to use mysterious meat. I give you, in celebration of the sausage, a German recipe for the beef variety.

Rindfleischwürste”—Beef Sausages.
Four pounds of beef and one pound of pork must be minced together fine; then cut up a pound of fat bacon into little dice, and mix it into the other mince with the following seasoning: two ounces of salt, a teaspoonful of fine saltpetre, half an ounce of pepper, five pounded or ground cloves, and a shalot or clove of garlic bruised to a pulp. To disperse the flavour of garlic or shalot equally, put half a cup of water in the mortar with the pounded garlic, and pour this among the meat. Fill tightly in ox skins, and tie them firmly. Put them in cold water on the fire and simmer them an hour. When done, lay them in cold water for two or three minutes, and hang them in a cool airy place.

German National Cookery for English Kitchens (London 1873)

1 comment:

Shay said...

"People with weak stomachs should not watch laws or sausages being made." Bismarck.