Thursday, December 1, 2011

I’m so Hungry I Could Eat a Horse! (or maybe just a fancy French fry)

Years and years ago (ok, this year) I managed to get through a sizeable portion of my reading list.  If you’re anything like me, this is a monumental task in and of itself.  I constantly buy new books with the best of intentions… but more often than not, intentions are all I seem to have time for.  So as part of my New Year’s Anthology of Annual Resolutions I vowed not to purchase another book until 2012.  Needless to say, I failed like one of NASA’s Mars probes. 

To date, I have purchased three books: The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver; Mastering the Art of French Cooking (in two volumes) by Child, Beck, and Bertholle; and The Man Who Ate Everything by food writer Jeffrey Steingarten.  It is this last book that concerns today’s post. 

Anyone who is a fan of the television series Iron Chef on Food Network is familiar with Jeffry Steingarten (he’s the perpetually intimidating, middle aged guy with glasses).  As a fan of the show and a more than avid viewer, I was well acquainted with Mr. Steingarten’s credentials and unendingly impressed by the level knowledge he displays when discussing food. 

Jeffrey Steingarten (left) on the set of Iron Chef America
In early January or February (I can’t remember which), I was standing in line at one of Huntsville’s many thrift stores.  While I was waiting for the glacially slow cashier, I noticed that one of the other customers had abandoned a practically mint condition copy of The Man Who Ate Everything on the checkout counter.  Observing that the price was a paltry $2.00, I immediately grabbed it and placed it on top of the bulky, 35 bottle wine rack I discovered buried in the back of the store.  I know what most of you are thinking, and YES I did need the 35 bottle rack!

Reading his work was one of the most rewarding literary journeys I have ever enjoyed.  Sure it’s not Proust, but who honestly enjoys reading Proust?  Reading Steingarten also solidified my opinion that he indeed is the Julia Child of our current generation!  Through his writing, my perception of food and the culinary arts began to change.  I began to see the importance of food to our culture and politics. 

In one chapter Steingarten goes looking for the perfect French fry (or in his case pomme frites).  What he discovers is that (1) the perfect fry is double cooked, (2) it comes from central-Western Europe (Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium), and (3) it is cooked in rendered horse fat.  In trying to duplicate this perfect fry for his Vogue Magazine readers, he attempts to purchase horse fat in the U.S.  In doing so, he discovers the complex laws regarding the slaughter and consumption of horse meat make it virtually impossible to buy the stuff in the U.S.

Which brings me to the actual topic of today’s post…horse meat.  (my sincerest apologies for what has to be the most buried lead in the history of the written word)

Yesterday, in an Associated Press article prepared by Justin Juozapavicius it was reported that the U.S. Congress “quietly lifted a 5-year-old ban on funding horse meat inspections, and activists say slaughterhouses could be up and running in as little as a month.” 

I’m sure that many readers will have a laundry list of problems and issues regarding this topic…but I can’t seem to find any moral, logical, justifiable, or rational reason not to oppose this move by Congress.

Neither could Steingarten, who made perhaps one of the best arguments in favor of lifting the ban in a reply to an angry reader after his horse fat pomme frites story was first published. 

“The United States is the largest horse-meat exporter in the world (as many as 400,000 animals a year are sent to slaughter) because it has the largest recreational horse population.  These animals become ‘surplus’ when horse lovers unnecessarily breed their pets, owners sell their racehorse after only a few years, and recreational riders trade up. Slaughter and export become inevitable when this surplus drives down the resale prices below about $600 an animal.  The object of Ms. __’s rage should be the inhumane practices of a good part of the horse-slaughtering industry.  And the unwillingness of most horse owners to care for their discarded pets until they die a natural death.”

(from Jeffery Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything pg. 416)

We need to see past the majestic and romantic images of horses as pets, and realize that with very few exceptions these animals are not pets…they are beasts of burden.  Unfortunately, because of this ban, horses in American are treated much more like greyhounds than anything else.  They are treated well for a few years, then left to starve or just put to death after they have fulfilled their usefulness.  The sad truth is that in countries where it is acceptable to consume horse meat, the animals are treated better in both life and death.

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