I’ve written a piece for the Telegraph comment pages on Britain and Ireland’s history with horse meat. You can find it here, along with some subversive food writing from the brilliant Rose Prince. It includes everything from 1400BC horsecare manuals to observations on our current habit of shipping our equine meat overseas for others to consume.
Here’s a paragraph that had to be lopped from the original (I overran my word count!), along with the French mid-nineteenth-century reaction to eating horses: “There were cries of horror, and many suggested that if the French ate horses they would soon eat dogs and then turn to cannibalism.”
At Langhams in London in 1860 a French soldier-turned-chef served up two carthorses and a carriage horse as consommé, bouilli, sausage, ragout and a roti in a “hippophagic banquet” to introduce squeamish Anglos to the delights of cheval. Even the potatoes were soused in colourless “horse oil.” “I do not believe,” wrote one diner, “that it could have been distinguished in taste from excellent beef.” Slowly Britain came around.
There’s also a quote from Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1856 on the “humane benefits” of hippophagy:
“let [the working horse] rest, put him up somewhere, feed him so that he’s not a loss; and above all, […] heap no more blows on him: because to beat him would be to add to his distress a damage to ourselves: we risk spoiling the merchandise.*”
* I need to check the source for this translation – I think it was Kari Weil. More anon…