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Taboo meat

There are many reasons why some meats might be considered taboo and not others. Sometimes people have a more sentimental connection to some animals than others, for instance cows are work animals in Southern India, and are not eaten there, while cats and dogs are kept as household pets throughout the world and are rarely eaten. Other meats are avoided for religious reasons, for instance some Jews, Christians and Muslims avoid lobster and goat meat because their religion has forbidden the eating of 'fish without true scales' and even-toed ungulates.




Leporids such as European rabbits and hares make friendly pets for fanciers or those allergic to cats and dogs. They are also a food meat in both Europe and the United States. There is no general taboo against eating rabbit, except by some rabbit owners and vegetarians.

Prairie Dog & Squirrel

Both the American prairie dog and squirrel were widely hunted for food in the United States until the mid-20th century, but have recently become exotic pets. The main appeal of these animals as a food source was their abundance and the ease of catching them. Squirrel is still occasionally eaten.

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs (or cavies) were originally bred for their meat, and only became a exotic popular pet when introduced to Europe from America. Guinea pigs continue to be a major part of the diet in Peru, particularly in the Andes Mountains highlands, where they are an important source of protein and a mainstay of Andean folk medicine. Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million Guinea pigs each year, and the animal is so entrenched in the culture that one famous painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco, Peru shows Christ and the 12 disciples dining on Guinea pig. Today guinea pig meat is exported to the United States and Japan.

La Molina National University, Peru's most prestigious agrarian university, has bred a larger, faster-growing variety of the animal that it hopes will prove a nutritional boon to the country, as well as a source of export income. This breed grows to about 2 kilos, or at least twice the native breed.


In certain cultures, dogs are raised on farms and slaughtered as a source of meat. In Korea for example, dog meat is the basis for winter soups and stews in some segments of the population (see Gaegogi). The source of the meat and the alleged methods of slaughter has generated friction between dog lovers and dog eaters, that occasionally breaks out as headline news.

In other cultures, dogs have served as a standby source of food. One example is in China where in times past Chow Chows were often posted to guard family storehouses. During a hard season when the food store was depleted, the dog would be slaughtered as an emergency ration.

In the United States and Canada, Eskimo and non-native sled dog teams traditionally fed a dog who expired during a grueling run to the remaining dogs.


In desperate times, people have been known to resort to cooking and eating cats, as occurred in Argentina in 1996. Cats are eaten in parts of Korea and China. In Canton, China, where the people are said to eat everything with four legs except the table, cat is reportedly served along with snake in a dish called "The Dragon and the Tiger".

Cats are also used to produce medicinal potions such as Korean "liquid cat", a remedy for joint pain made by boiling cats (alleged to be alive in some cases) with spices, and for their fur which is used to make fur coat s and other fur clothing.

Cats are sometimes confused with civet cats, an Asian raccoon-like animal. This has led Americans to accuse some Chinese manufacturer of using cat fur in their products. Others worry that some traditional medicines imported into the United States are of unknown animal origin. In 2001, a shipment of cat toys imported into the United States from China were recalled and destroyed because they were trimmed with cat fur, which had just been baned in the U.S.

Some Australian Aboriginal tribes have been known to hunt the feral cats as a secondary source of meat. One tribe well known for this activity believe this cat to be either indigenous or of ancient, non-European origin. However, one recent DNA analysis has shown evidence that they are related to British shorthair cats. Feral cats in Australia are regularly hunted, but not eaten, by non-Aboriginals due to their being voracious pests. They are considered a danger to native species. But there is a small minority of scientists contend that they are more likely to eat from rubbish dumps and other food sources provided by humans.

The term roof-hare applies to cat meat presented as that of a hare, another pet used as a source of meat. Subtracting the skin, feet, head and tail, hares and cats are practically identical. The only way to distinguish them is by looking at the processus hamatus of the feline scapula, which should have a processus suprahamatus .

Work animals


Horses are bred by humans for use as food. Meat from (injured) horses that vets have put down with a lethal injection is not used for consumption: the carcasses of such animals are cremated. In Europe horses are specially raised for their meat. These horses run wild and are not trained as carriage animals. In 2001, people consumed an estimated 153,000 tonnes of horse meat worldwide.

In the late palaeolithic (Magdalenien ) wild horses formed an important source of food.

Horse meat is often of very good quality. It can be tender, and is low in fat and high in protein, something that has led to its being popular among body builders. Horse meat has a slightly sweet taste that some find distasteful, but that can be disguised with seasoning and spices.

Today many European countries, including France, Italy, Romania and Belgium, produce and consume horse meat.

In France specialized butcher shops (boucheries chevalines) sell horsemeat, as ordinary butcher shops do not have the right to deal in it. According to legend, the French taste for horse meat dates from the Battle of Eylau in 1807, when the surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon's Grand Army, Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey , advised the starving troops to eat the flesh of dead battlefield horses. The cavalry used breastplates as cooking pans and gunpowder as seasoning, and thus founded a tradition.

During World War II, due to the low supply and high price of beef, the state of New Jersey legalized the sale of horse meat. At war's end, the state again prohibited such sale—some say in response to pressure from the beef lobby.


Horse is commonly eaten in many countries in Europe, but not in Islamic or Jewish countries, since under Mosaic Law, horse meat is unclean because the horse is not cloven-hoofed or cud-chewing. In pre-Christian times, horse meat was eaten in northern Europe as part of Teutonic religious ceremonies, particularly those associated with the worship of Odin.

The eating of horse meat is a food taboo to some people in the United Kingdom and the US, and is sometimes even illegal. Like lobster and camel, it is forbidden by some followers of Muslim and Jewish religions. In 732 CE, Pope Gregory III began an effort to stop the pagan practice of horse eating, calling it "abominable", and the people of Iceland allegedly expressed reluctance to embrace Christianity for some time largely over the issue of giving up horse meat. His edicts are based on the same scripture as the Jewish prohibitions. In some countries the effects of this prohibition by the Catholic Church have lingered, and horse meat prejudices have progressed from taboos to avoidance to abhorrence. In other parts of the world, horse meat has the stigma of being something poor people eat and is seen as a cheap substitute for other meats.

According to the anthropologist Marvin Harris, some cultures class horsemeat as taboo because the horse converts grass into meat less efficiently than other beasts, since horses do not function as ruminants. When breeding cattle for meat, a cow or a sheep will produce more meat if fed with the same amount of grass. Brigitte Bardot has spent her latter years crusading against the eating of horse meat.

Although people in the United States of America rarely eat horse meat, many horses from the US are sold for slaughter and consumption in Europe, Mexico or Japan. A Food Standards Agency (FSA) 2003 investigation has revealed that salami and chorizo on sale in the UK sometimes contains horse and donkey meat, without being mentioned on the food label—something that is required. Much of the horse meat produced in the US is sold to zoos for carnivore feeding, due to its high protein content.


Those preparing sandwiches with horse meat usually use it smoked and salted. Horse meat forms an ingredient in several traditional recipes of salami, and in Kazakhstan it's used in hazy (horse sausage).

Japanese call raw horse meat sakura from its pink color. It is often served as sashimi where it is called basashi and serve it in thin slices with soya sauce and wasabi. In Switzerland horse meat may be used in Fondue bourguignonne. In Belgium, the traditional french fries were cooked in horse fat, although since the replacement of horses with automobiles, other types of fat, considered inferior by many, are often used instead. In Italy it is used in recipes such as . In Chile it is used in charqui. In Iceland it is used for fondue, but it is mostly used for stews. This eliminates the main problem with much horse meat, it's toughness, and takes advantage of it's strong flavor.

Mare milk is used by peoples with large horse herds, like Mongols. They may let it ferment to produce kumys. However, mares produce a much lower yield of milk than do cows.

External links

  • Global Appetites for Horse Meat
  • U.S.D.A. Promotes Horse & Goat Meat
  • Americans squeamish over horse meat
  • Korean Animal Protection Society
  • China exotic food FAQ

Last updated: 02-07-2005 05:12:15
Last updated: 02-22-2005 02:23:37