Brian Vidor built his businesses around the thrill of eating the forbidden: tiny insects downstairs, massive endangered species upstairs; one place representing rapacious, selfish, greedy devouring of all the world's creatures, the other broad-minded, virtuous, global humanism; one theoretically sustainable, one likely not; both challenging notions of what is appropriate food. Vidor's lawyer entered a not guilty plea for Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., too. After leaving the courtroom, he summed up his client's position and, as far as I could tell, the attitudes of the adventurous foodies who ate there and distanced themselves when the dark side of their thrill-seeking was exposed. "He owned the restaurant, but he's a Caucasian, he's a fun-loving guy he wasn't involved day to day."
In early 2013, Tesco, the British supermarket chain, made a startling revelation: some of its frozen beef patties contained horsemeat, one sample as much as twenty-nine per cent. Then Burger King, which used the same Irish supplier (who put the blame on its supplier, in Poland), admitted that its meat was potentially contaminated, too. A British food manufacturer disclosed that its beef lasagna was purely horse. Ikea pulled its meatballs horse from locations across Europe. CBC News reported that the horsemeat scandal had stirred the competitive instincts of Canadian foodies, many of whom were rushing to try it. For Americans who worried that something similar might happen here, it was hard to say what was more disconcerting, the idea that you wouldn't be able to taste the horse, or that you would.
Horse meat is red, bloody, unmarbled, and is said to be reminiscent of venison (venison, apparently, is the chicken of the alt-meat world). It takes a lot of grass to make a little bit of horse; given a choice, people have preferred to use them as work animals, transportation, and instruments of war. In the first millennium, the Catholic Church, threatened by the stubborn pagan habit of ritual horse-eatingit was tied to Odin worship in Germany and Northern Europetook the unusual step of banning it. Mostly, the ban was successful; only Iceland, which made exemption a condition of conversion, kept at it.
Parisians discovered horse meat the hard way, as a meat of last resort during the Revolution. By the mid-nineteenth century, just in time for the Siege of Paris, when it came in handy again, intellectuals were promoting it as a cheap, nutritious, and tasty solution to the problem of hunger. The nineteenth-century French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who advocated for chevaline on practical and culinary grounds, wrote that its flavor was comparable to beef and recommended it by saying that "it has been sold in restaurants, even in the best, as venison, and without the customers ever suspecting the fraud or complaining of it."
"Horse-flesh pie, too, eaten cold, is a dainty now at Berlin and Toulouse, and boiled horse, rechauffé, has usurped the place of ragouts and secondary dishes!" Peter Lund Simmonds wrote in "The Curiosities of Food," in 1859. But trusty, tin-earred Anglo- Saxon"horse-flesh pie"was not the way to introduce the delicacy that, Simmonds said, was "at the present the rage" in the dining clubs and salons. The Englishmen of the Society for the Propagation of Horse Flesh as an Article of Food hired French chefs to prepare banquets of chevaline. Previously, the English had known chevaline by the name "cat food."
In 1979, another intellectual, Calvin W. Schwabe, the "father of veterinary epidemiology," published "Unmentionable Cuisine," which he described as "a practical guide to help us and our children prepare for the not too distant day when the world's growing foodpopulation problem presses closer upon us and our overly restrictive eating habits become less tolerable." The taste for horse, he wrote, was "superficially latent" in many Americans. Case in point: a horsemeat shop in Westbrook, Connecticut, that opened in the early seventies, during a period of high beef prices, and was hugely successful in spite of mounted protestors. ("I'll sell it as long as it moves," the proprietor told a reporter amid brisk sales on opening day.) Schwabe also provided a recipe for meatloafthree parts horse to one part porkhe and his wife made often during his years in vet school.
Excerpted from Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear. Copyright © 2013 by Dana Goodyear. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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