Friday, January 31, 2014

Year of the Horsemeat

This is probably not the way you're supposed to celebrate this particular zodiac animal's ascendance at the Chinese New Year, but I'm going to stir-fry this former horse with the broccoli and red pepper and tangerines I need to use up, and eat it with sesame-seed rice noodles. There's a horsemeat-only butcher at Les Halles (the big covered food market) in the middle of Pau, one of the few in the region. You can buy horsemeat in most large supermarkets, however, and it's fairly popular, though not as widely eaten as in some other countries. In fact, according to the statistics I was googling through, twice as much horsemeat is eaten in Canada as in France, and both countries lag well behind Mexico. Culturally speaking USians have never been big on eating horses, which is ironic since most of the wild horses slaughtered for population control (or whatever the reason du jour is now) end up being processed for sale in other countries.

French people don't have any prejudice against eating horsemeat, in a general sense, but I haven't found many people who say they eat it often (though the butcher was doing a brisk business). There have been two big horsemeat-related scandals here lately, the first one about horsemeat ending up as an unlabeled ingredient in "beef" lasagne and other frozen foods, something that was traced back to, I believe, an Eastern European processing plant. I think that was the same IKEA-meatball incident you may have heard of in the States. The most recent scandal came not from mislabeled meat, but from the health of the horses used to produce the meat. Apparently someone was buying up horses that had been used for medical testing, and thus full of weird things, and reselling them as "clean" to the processors, who may or may not have known what they were getting. I also heard something about UK horses being put into the mix illegally; those were the horses that people can't afford any more due to the economic downturn over there, with the result that instead of processing horses that had been raised for meat, former kids' ponies and teenagers' after-school rides were being ground up into patties.

Even with all the horror stories, I'll trust a local butcher. I was describing how I wanted to cook the meat (thin ribbons quickly stir-fried) and asking what cut would be best, and after debating the quality of the slightly fatty entrecôte I opted for the leaner filet, and asked for three slices. He reached into the display window, then looked over and said, "You've got a bit of an accent; where are you from?" "I come from the United States," I replied. He hesitated as he was pulling the meat up onto the counter. "You ... you do know this is horse meat, don't you?"

According to an online site about the Chinese Zodiac and feng shui and things like that, this should be a fairly good year for me, as the Dragon and the Horse are moderately affiliated, and my wood Dragon fuels the 2014 fire Horse. Also, and this is good news, "dragons who are freelancing or running their own business will make good money." Yay! But there will also be unpleasant surprises and uncertainty, and I need to find helpful people to get me through the difficulties. Apparently I need to do something called the Gain Helpful Friends Ritual today, and to start wearing a "Mystic Knot" or "Infinity" bracelet. Both of which, of course, were available for purchase on the website ...

On the Wikipedia site for the Chinese zodiac, they say that the year you're born only links you with the zodiac animal you appear to be to others, and that there are also zodiac signs assigned that show your inner animal nature (your birth month), your true nature (the day), and your secret animal (the hour). I'm a Dragon, but a Snake inside, apparently; my true nature is a Sheep, and my secret animal is a Dragon again, so I suppose that's not much of a secret, is it?

I didn't eat any snake last year, though if I'd had an opportunity I would have. Horse is on the menu tonight, and next year's goat and/or sheep will be easy to find. Monkey I will avoid, which shouldn't be hard to do, as I don't anticipate traveling to Africa. Rooster; check. Dog - probably not unless I end up in China or SE Asia, but if I'm going to eat horses raised for meat, I shouldn't quibble with dogs raised for meat. Pig, dear god, I have eaten enough pork this year to 2020 and well beyond. Rat would be another Asian meal, I think, unless I'm transported back to wartime Paris, but a nice fat copyu (also called nutria) might fit the bill, and I could get that in South America. Ox could be any bit of beef, but there is no way I'm going to eat a tiger, or a cat, but even in China that's not a popular meat any more, so I should be okay there. Rabbit I will eat willingly, especially as the delicious rillettes I used to buy from the meat truck in Tours. And that brings us back to Dragons, which I doubt I'll find on any menu anywhere. I'm not opposed to trying some lizard meat though, if the opportunity arises.

Have you cannibalized your zodiac sign yet?


  1. I'm a dog inside and out, but my true nature is a horse, which is secretly a dragon.

  2. We secret dragons stick together. Bisous!