The recent horsemeat scandal still galloping across Europe has left many Europeans without much of an appetite. But in France, you can actually find horsemeat for sale at some butcher shops. And around the world there are lots of different types of animals eaten that may gross out Western palates. Why is that? Why do we find some animal flesh mouthwatering and others repulsive?
If you've ever seen the classic film, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, you probably remember one of its most viscerally disturbing scenes: when the group is served a feast including "chilled monkey brains." And while we don't see brains on too many menus these days from monkeys or otherwise, what's really all that gross about it?
Admittedly, the chilled monkey brains scene only further catapulted my vegan curiosity into a die-hard commitment that's lasted the better part of twenty years, and shows no sign of slowing down. And I've always found it interesting that meat eaters find some types of meat perfectly acceptable while even the mere mention of others can make them gag. For example, as a vegetarian, I salivate at the opportunity to try new fruits and vegetables. Aside from the four I call the Axis of Disgusting (garlic, onions, asparagus and sometimes eggplant), I'll try—and typically love—any plant matter. In fact, the more exotic, the better (I dare you to challenge me to a passion fruit eating contest).
We consider the horse a creature of majesty, and granted, there's nothing worse than eating something someone you were not expecting, especially someone you hold a high level of respect for, but why is it disgusting, exactly? Americans are only acclimated to eating pigs, cows, chicken, goats and fish because of geography. If you lived elsewhere in the world, you'd likely eat some of these animals without flinching:
In the Philippines, they regularly eat rats, bats, monkeys and all sorts of gnarly (I mean, really gnarly) insects. In China and Korea, they eat dogs—but they emphasize—not the kind you keep as pets, the kind raised on a farm like a pig or a cow. What's the difference, exactly? Isn't a dog a dog? And for the record, pigs are smarter than dogs yet we treat them much worse. The Chinese also eat seahorses (really?!), scorpions and starfish. If you lived there prior to 2007, you may have even eaten the now virtually extinct Indochinese tiger.
Venture over to Africa and you might dine on a variety of "bush meat," a term open to define any wild game including wildebeest, water buffalo, gazelles, zebra, monkeys and pelicans. In Madagascar, the locals often eat those adorable fuzzy-tailed lemurs.
Swing down to Australia and with kangaroos outnumbering people nearly two to one, you're likely to find marsupial all over the menu. Down in the Amazon, you could dine on sloth, snakes or tapirs.
The horsemeat scandal serves to remind us that our eating habits are more often than not, nonsensical and irrational—particularly our blatant acceptance of egregious cruelty to animals raised for food and the wastefulness of an archaic industry. Horsemeat or not, we should be repulsed by an industry where foods can so easily be contaminated, mislabeled and are generally unhealthy. And rather than find cultural diets so repugnant, perhaps it is time to embrace our human diversity and broaden our relationships with food—whether we're meat eaters or not—and find our way to co-creating the most delicious parts of life for us all.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger