Monday, February 11, 2013


This writer will, sometimes, post articles intended to impart helpful information. Sometimes the intent will be to provoke thought, to examine values, and to explore distinct points of view. The article that follows is intended to provoke thought, to examine values, and to explore distinct points of view. The reader should not assume that the text accurately reflects this writer’s personal values or points of view on specific questions.

          This is not a philosophical debate. We are just rearranging our prejudices. [Anonymous].

          La Gitana (The Gypsy) was a black Paso Fino mare owned by the United States Peace Corps. She served as my means of transportation on the mountain trails of the Eastern Range of the Andes in Colombia during my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. La Gitana covered the most difficult terrain with complete safety and sure-footedness. On level ground, or even during an ill-advised mad dash down the unlit mountain on a treacherous trail at night time, she was a joy to ride.

          What made La Gitana special was her disposition. She never refused to face the task before her, whether it be ascending or descending on a rocky pathway, jumping over a low lying stone fence, or fording a fast flowing stream after a heavy rain. And she was feisty as all hell.

          I was a Peace Corps Volunteer working the Colombian countryside, organizing rural people to help themselves. After a sally on horseback into some remote destination, I would return to the town where I lived and entrust the care of La Gitana to a twelve year old boy who was an accomplished horseman in his own right.

          I delighted in La Gitana’s response to human speech. One afternoon I decided to demonstrate to her young caretaker just how responsive La Gitana could be to my spoken words. I hurled a string of pungent insults at her. Immediately she whipped her head around and bit me in the nipple. It hurt like all get out. I never did that again.

          La Gitana hated shoeing. One time I was replacing her shoes. I had just tapped a horseshoe nail through the outer wall of her right rear hoof. She let loose with a violent kick, and drove the tip of the nail into the bone of the middle finger on my right hand. Decades later, I retain the scar as a souvenir of our sometimes adversarial relationship. Sometimes she treated me as her equal. I admired her greatly.

          Tex was a Hereford steer in the feedlot of the family farm the barnyard of which is displayed in the photograph on the home page of my website, He was simply one of many cattle being fattened for slaughter. We developed a bond of friendship and trust, boy and bovine. As he milled around the enclosure of the sale barn with his companions and the auctioneer sang out the bidding, he came to me as I stood on the other side of the wire chainlink, his eyes wild with fear. There was nothing to be done by me. And then he was gone.
          Well, Ladies and Dudes, Tex ended up on a human dinner plate.  I do not know what happened to La Gitana after her retirement from public service, but under similar circumstances a horse today in Florida would not end up on someone's dinner plate.  Not legally anyway.  Why?  Because it is unlawful for any person to sell in the markets of Florida horse meat for human consumption unless the horse meat is clearly stamped, marked, and described as horse meat for human consumption. 

          In the United States as of yet there are no slaughter facilities authorized by government for the killing of horses and processing of their meat for human consumption.  So there is no horse meat marked for human consumption.  Several businesses, some of them in Missouri, have sought such authority.  They would require federal inspection, and even today federal funding for inspection is not a given in light of strong public opposition to horse slaughter for the human dinner table.  It is not likely that in the foreseeable future such horse slaughterhouse facilities will be operating in the State of Florida.

          Unless you are a vegan,  your value choices are not necessarily internally consistent.  Hogs are at least as smart as horses, and pot-bellied pigs are popular pets.  Maybe you smell the ham baking in the oven as you read this.  Or hear the bacon sizzling in the pan.  Tex was not a horse.  Think about charcoal flavored juicy steak on the grill and a cold bottle of beer on a hot summer day.

          It comes down to this:  in the United States of America predominant cultural values more other than not are reflected in laws.  For historical reasons and cultural tradition, horses are protected from the fate awaiting most other domestic farm animals.  Both religion and economics have played a role in our contemporary attitudes regarding human consumption of horse meat.  As early as 732, Pope Gregory III banned horsemeat for human consumption because it was viewed as part of pagan ritual.  But as is so often the case economics, military considerations and social class all have played their part.

          It takes little effort to imagine that horses would be more useful as  means of transportation and death delivery systems than, say, cows, pigs, goats or chickens.  Not many knights in shining armor saddled up and mounted a cow to search for military conquest.  Yes, oxen were (and still are) used to plow fields, but certainly horses were found to provide far more effective and a greater variety of services in agriculture and transportation than other species of domestic animals.   Horses were, comparatively, more useful to mankind in ways that would endure and could be repreated daily than as a one time source of animal protein on the dinner plate.

          The taboos against consuming horses for human fooed tended to fade away, at least for some, in times of famine and scarcity.  The ravages of war, economic hard times, and desperate need for affordable sustenance led from time to time by those at the bottom of the economic ladder ladder to consume horsemeat, and especially from horses no longer suitable for other purposes, even if their more affluent neighbors scorned horsemeat as food for the rabble.

          Notwithstanding the historical taboos against conumption of horsemeat in Western society, today if you travel to Europe, or Latin America, or Asia, you will find human consumers of horse meat who do not beat their spouses, do take good care of their children, go to church or its equivalent, and are otherwise just good, all around decent neighbors.  And what does that tell us?  We make laws motivated by emotion as much as by reason.  Maybe we can call it democracy. 

 Gary D. Malfeld 

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