Hungry Enough to Eat a Horse

New-York cut striploin horse steaks on the grill.

New-York cut striploin horse steaks on the grill. Photo: Rachael Ashe

That’s how the saying goes: ‘Hungry enough to eat a horse.’

But have you eaten a horse? Or even just some horse?

I have. Along with 9 friends last weekend we ate horse steaks grilled and seasoned with salt and herbs.

We ate horse steaks between course of dungeonness crab, German potato salad, watermelon-feta salad and finished with a cast-iron tarte tatin.

Dungeoness crab and red rock crab claws.

Dungeoness crab and red rock crab claws. Photo: Rachael Ashe

But how was the horse?

Good. Variable. Okay.

Some pieces were great — tender and savoury and full of flavour and juice. Some were just okay.

Horse meat turns out to be very lean, with a similar texture and grain to beef, but without the marbling. I imagine it would challenge most folks to tell the different between well-cooked horse and grass-fed beef. It tastes very mild to me, someone used to eating beef.

Watermelon and feta cheese salad with mint garnish.

Watermelon and feta cheese salad with mint garnish. Photo: Rachael Ashe

But we don’t like to eat horse, do we? It feels taboo. Not right.

We grilled the horse steaks on the common deck of a Yaletown condo unit, beside an glassed-in pool / hot tub / gym facility where towards the end of our meal 2 men and 2 girls engaged in a transparent tease-chase game, with one of the girls playing along in her tank top and thong. Through the glass her thonged behind played peek-a-boo as she toe ran to the water to protect her modesty.

We had a code word for our horse in case anyone around us felt sensitive. We didn’t have to use it.

When I think of horses I think of big brown questioning eyes. Beautiful muscles under sleek coats. Grace and big, quiet mystery. It’s hard to think of them as food.

And I felt uneasy eating horse. Not because I’ve ever had any great relations to horses. I have no boyhood story of riding a horse or feeding them apples over the half gate in a musty, warm barn.

But I felt uneasy.

German-style potato salad.

German-style potato salad. Photo: Rachael Ashe

I tried to read a little more about how we rationalize our ideas of what is ethical to eat. I read David Foster Wallace’s essay from Gourmet magazine, Consider the Lobster. But it didn’t really help. I recommend it but I’m left with more questions than answers.

Is it cruel to eat meat? Yes.

Does that make those of us who eat meat cruel? Yes.

Can we try to eat meat in as humane a way possible? Yes.

Are we animals whose nature is to be omnivores, inclusive of meat? Yes.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten on the topic.

Because there’s not much else I can consider, honestly, other than to reconcile that my choice to eat meat means that animals die. That’s it. There’s no substitute logic.

It’s a complicated business, being human.

How do you reconcile your choice to eat or not eat meat?

Tarte tatin made in a cast-iron pan.

Tarte tatin made in a cast-iron pan. Photo: Rachael Ashe

All photos courtesy of Rachael Ashe — Goddess Spiral on Flickr.


12 Responses to “Hungry Enough to Eat a Horse”

  1. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    I really like this article James: very honest and to the point. Though I fear the hate mails are forthcoming.

    I’m certain I’ll be judged for this, but I found eating horse rather delightful. A little like sinning perhaps. But if god didn’t want us to eat horses, then why did he make them so delicious?

    Alright, alright, calm down. That old joke was insensitive and inappropriate, but that’s kind of how I felt eating cheval—or rather “Belmont Steaks”—which was our code word on the actual day of that famed race by utter coincidence, I swear.

    I spent a good deal of my childhood riding my families horses in Manitoba. Horses were loved pets. Our companions. So it does seem sketchy to eat such beautiful animals who haven’t had natural predators or been a part of the food chain for so long, but they are still animals.

    And I’ve spent the time to consider what I eat and I am a carnivore. And in the end, I see little difference between eating cows, pigs, lambs, or even horse. As famous put by our delicious friend Mr. Ed, “a horse is a horse of course of course.” (I had to, sorry)

    Now, where’d I put that giant lobe of foie gras?

  2. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    I’ve had horse sashimi in Japan. Is it any worse, ethically, that it was consumed raw?

  3. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    @Joseph Wu: I don’t think eating horse raw has any compounding effect on the ethics.

  4. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    @James Sherrett: I don’t think so either. :)

  5. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    But look what happened to the unicorn. There are none left now. LOL

    In all seriousness, eating horses is no different than eating rabbit or any other animal. It’s a personal choice based on your comfort level. Horse meat, as I’m sure rabbit and bison are, is also likely a much more sustainably produced meat than any chicken or cow you can buy at the supermarket. I’d eat good horse meat before crappy cow anytime.

  6. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    good grief, there is a lot going on in this post. existential anxiety and thong tag… i’m confused.

    but also curious to eat some horse.


  7. Posted on June 12th, 2009

    I ate horse in Finland. It was cured, smoked and shaved into paper-thin dry slices. Totally delicious. I can’t say that I felt any worse eating horse than beef, chicken, lamb, pork, etc, however, I have crushingly bad about eating meat at times.

    It’s odd to realize that most of us are more comfortable eating the flesh of an animal raised in the deeply cruel circumstances of factory farms than when we are eating the flesh of animals (such as horses or wild animals) that often live lives much truer to their nature.

  8. Posted on June 15th, 2009

    This is a debate I’m fascinated by. One culture eats an animal that another reveres. Another culture keeps animals as pets that a third raises as food. Where do you draw the line? Guinea pigs in North America are pets, whereas they’re dinner in South America. Dogs are eaten in Asia and dressed in Cashmere sweaters here.

    As someone who was raised on a farm and fed beef daily to being a vegetarian to back to being someone who will eat almost anything, I’m intrigued with the way we sculpt the idea of food into whatever we want it to be. We euphemize words of animal parts to make us feel better, but because veal is traditional and “mainstream” does that make it more ethnical than horse? Because you were raised to think of something as a pet or a noble animal, does that mean that in another person, who doesn’t have the same association, has to follow suit?

    At the end of the day you just need to make educated choices. know where your food is coming from and do your best.

  9. Posted on March 29th, 2010

    Coming from a horse owner and horse lover, here is my take. Horses provide excellent companionship to people throughout their lives, (as I well know) yet they too come to their end as does every other animal. Does it not seem like a waste to just bury them in the ground when they come to that junction in their life? Worse yet, why put the euthanasia in the ground where it leaches into water systems or gets dug up by another carnivore who then dies due to ingesting it.
    The way I see it (as believe you me, an animal lover to the ‘enth degree) these animals could then in turn provide back to those in need of food or simply a good steak. I know as a human being I want to be useful to those around me and I want to know that I was able to provide excellent things to them as well. Is this not a profound way to go?

  10. Posted on March 30th, 2010

    Thanks, Sacha, for the thoughtful comments.

  11. Posted on August 2nd, 2010

    I tried horse steak tonight. I marinated it in red wine, olive oil, crushed garlic and coriander seed (powdered). The meat was tender but I was not happy with the flavour due to the marinade I would sumise. I would like to get my hands on a decent recipe and have another go, so if you have a recipe I would be most obliged if you could let me know it.

  12. Posted on August 3rd, 2010

    We didn’t really have a recipe other than just good grilling practices — heat the grill to hot, make sure it’s clean, make sure the steaks are room temperature, oil the steaks a little.

    We seasoned them with fleur de sel and pepper about 10 minutes before grilling.

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