From Taboo to “Ecoterrorism” – Horsemeat’s Troubled Political History in America

I’ve written something for The Atlantic‘s Object Lessons blog on the long (if potted!) history of horsemeat in America. A much fuller account is on offer in The Age of the Horse!

During World War II food shortages, horse meat once again found its way to American tables, but the post-war backlash was rapid. “Horse meat” became a political insult. “You don’t want your administration to be known as a horse meat administration, do you?” the former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia demanded of his successor William O’Dwyer. President Truman was nicknamed “Horse meat Harry” by Republicans during food shortages in the run up to the 1948 “Beefsteak Election.” In 1951, reporters asked if there would be a “Horse meat Congress,” one “that put the old gray mare on the family dinner table.” When Adlai Stevenson ran for president in 1952, he was also taunted as “Horse meat Adlai” thanks to a Mafia scam uncovered in Illinois when he was governor.

Sparky the Pit Pony’s Days in the Sun

The last working horses at a colliery in Britain retired – astonishingly – in 1999. Here’s a story from The Mirror about one of the other “last pit ponies”, Sparky:

Since his retirement in 1988, Sparky has been taking it easy at the National Coal Mining Museum and has been looked after by Wendy and her colleague Bonnie Littlewood.

“When he first came out of the mine, he had to blink his way into the light,” says Wendy. “He hadn’t seen much sun and wasn’t used to it. The change in pace also took some adjustment.”

Now, Sparky’s life consists of staying out in a field overnight and spending his morning in the stable eating oats and barley, and meeting visitors.

The oldest pony in the museum, he is something of a living legend. “He’s a real charmer,” says Wendy. “It takes a while for him to warm to someone but once he does, he’s your friend for life. He’s stubborn and knows his own mind. He’s a real Victor Meldrew. But eventually, if you’re patient, he comes round.

“And he likes women. The gentle touch is what works with him. If you shout at him you have no chance.”

 

Colonel Gaddafi, a Very Young Michael Whitaker and Fantasia in Libya

Thank you Matt for this spectacular oddity from Adam Curtis at the BBC. In 1982, Libya held an international showjumping contest that featured top British riders and a thousand-strong Bedouin “fantasia”. Head-tossing barb horses in embroidered bridles, a dictator at the height of his powers and one very dour Yorkshireman, who really does not want to talk to the plucky BBC film maker, all packed into 15 minutes of footage.

The Equine Etymology of Jungle Bunny

How laughably poor are the excuses made by Tory councillor Bob Frost for using the racist term ‘jungle bunny’ to describe London rioters?  The Telegraph quotes him:

‘Looking at the dictionary it would appear that the term jungle bunnies is pejorative and is a racist slur relating to African-Americans.

Needless to say I did not mean to use any offensive racist term and was referring to the urban jungle.’

He added: ‘As for the bunny bit it was originally “animals”, but I thought people might object to me calling fellow humans this so I chose something I thought was innocent and also cuddly.’

What a load of royal rollocks. According to the OED, it was first quoted as offensive Australian slang in the Sunday Times in 1973, and it clearly slipped easily into British vocabularies. In the 1970s, one of the UK’s top showjumpers, Lionel Dunning, even christened a new horse Jungle Bunny. At the time, showjumping was a hugely popular and much-televised sport, and Britain was lurking in something of a dark age of racial sensitivity (to put it mildly). I can’t imagine that a man of Mr Frost’s vintage had never come across the term before.

Anyhow, here’s the blameless horse in question, with Lionel in 1981:

 

EDITED TO ADD: thought we lived in more enlightened times? No. There’s a horse called “My Gollywog” on the show jumping circuit in New Zealand.