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Deja Vu

February 13, 2013

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?


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2013: French and British authorities are under pressure from consumers to punish a retailer they say sold beef mixed with horsemeat. Recently, the UK supermarket Tesco and a branch of international chain Burger King had also sold horse-tainted beef products purchased from an Irish supplier. Government officials in France and Britain suggest this new incident may not have been an accident. Al-Jazeera English reports:

“We thought we had certified French beef in our products. But in reality, we were supplied with Romanian horsemeat. We have been deceived,” Findus France director-general Matthew Lambeaux said. Findus’s supplier Comigel, a frozen foods producer based in eastern France, told a newspaper it had bought the meat from another French company, supplied from a Romanian abattoir.

In Britain Findus, said it believed the contamination was deliberate.

“The early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in beef lasagne was not accidental,” it said.

1871: The Siege of Paris, an event that led to the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the formation of the German Empire, left hungry Parisians with few options for sustenance. This account of life during the siege sees the French government encourage the consumption of horsemeat—complete with tips on how to elevate it to the gourmet:

The illustrated journals represent the horse passing through all the processes of inspection, weighing, branding and slaughtering. He is blindfolded, struck with a sledge hammer on the forehead and bled with a large knife. The blood is caught in basins and used for the purposes of making puddings. A bellows is used to inflate the hide so that it may be more easily removed. The animal is then disemboweled, quartered and distributed among those who have stalls in the markets and have a special license to engage in the traffic.

The Central Sanitary Commission, desiring to satisfy themselves as to the nutritious and palatable qualities of the viande de cheval, ordered a dinner. The guests unanimously agreed to commend these dishes, on account of their excellence of flavor. This may not be the exact sentiment of the commission, says the editor, but the Parisians, rich and poor, to satisfy themselves, began to experiment, each in his own way, and it is believed that we will all very soon be feasting upon the filet de cheval roti as well as other parts of the horse not so tender and sweet.
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The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
Victor Hugo, 1862
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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