Hippohagy: yay or neigh?

By 18th January 2013 Words du jour No Comments

There’s been a scandal in the UK this week whereby a couple of supermarket chains (including Tesco) were found to have a high content of horsemeat in their so-called ‘beef’ burgers. This is of course quite wrong at the most basic product/packaging level in terms of trying to pull the wool, or in this case perhaps the horsehair, over consumers’ eyes. But, it has also ignited squeamishness amongst the Brits, and again sparked debate (and many a new joke) about why “hippohagy” (the eating of horse meat) is a big no-no in Anglosaxon cultures – that’s certainly Americans too. And yet, in both these cases, the neighbouring countries are very happy to tuck into a nice steak tartare de ‘cheval’ – that’s the French and Belgians (and down and onwards into Switzerland and Italy), and the Canadians and Mexicans (and Argentinians and…) on the American side. Then there’s Asia where in many countries “hippohagy” has long been part of the culinary repertoire – in Japan, China, Russia, Mongolia to name but some.

It’s not that the UK and the USA are the only countries to count horses as pets, as book/tv/movie heroes, nor to have elevated their status as a noble and more deserving beast (to live) – in European, Asian and South American cultures, horses play a very big role in working lives and in leisure time too. Nor can it be for religious reasons, not for the majority anyway.

No, it seems it’s just how it is and how it’s been for nearly a century, and how it probably will be for a long time to come – unless, (please no), there would be another world war or other apocalyptic situation that would leave horses as the only available food source. Them or us. And this really isn’t a good time to bring up the bigger, and surely more universally taboo word ‘anthropophagy‘ (the eating of human flesh), although we would be interested in knowing what other ‘—-hagys‘ there are out there, and what might be eaten in one culture that would be rejected in another. Anyone?

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