The Great Horsemeat Scandal of 2013

Oh. Ugh. Burger King acknowledged a few weeks ago that some of its burgers sold in Britain and Ireland had unfortunately included a percentage of horsemeat. Some patties sold at British supermarket chain Tesco included up to 29-percent horsemeat. Worst of all, some crappy frozen lasagna included ground horsemeat, as well. If you’re a Kentucky-American, do you feel a certain sense of outrage and disgust?

My initial response was the same. My gut reaction: Yikes, horsemeat. How dare they slip that in? Could it be that our near-spiritual connection to horses here in the bluegrass causes this automatic disconnect? I think so. Also, we in Kentucky know that (at least) racehorses sometimes have drugs in their bodies. These drugs are not optimal for humans to ingest.

But, food safety professor Chris Elliott of Queens University, Belfast, emphasizes that from eating any of the suspected items, one is only going to get one-millionth of the amount of phenylbutazone that a horse injected with the medication would. The real health hazard is from the amount of fats and salt in the processed food products found to contain horsemeat.

But wait, you say — horses are intelligent and noble. They are our friends, our workers, our track stars. I understand. Nobody wants “Leg of Seven Bells” or “Secretariat Jerky,” right? Look, I’ve never eaten horsemeat. But I have to admit, I’d try it if I knew it was obtained at least as humanely as game meat (such as venison) or beef, and minimally adulterated by harmful chemicals or drugs. By all accounts, it’s sweet and tender and lean as all get out.

But I had to ask myself — why is horsemeat less defensible than foie gras, which I love? I’ve never bought into the foie gras ban craze. I know goose liver can be produced and harvested as humanely as a chicken tender — probably more humanely. Hardly anyone is nailing geese feet to a board anymore, and most foie gras geese are pretty free-range and do not have to suffer force-feeding — they actually run up to their feeding tube at meal time. I also love sweetbreads (the thymus gland of a calf). If you’ve never tried them, please do. It’s like the most adult version of a chicken nugget you will ever taste. And it means we are using more parts of a beef carcass than would typically be used just for veal, tenderloins or ground beef.

So why would I be scandalized by the inclusion of horsemeat in British ground meats? I think, in the end, it’s all about the lack of disclosure. Don’t feed me “scallops” that are actually round divots punched out of a skate wing or shark fin. Don’t offer me “wild salmon” that is farm-raised. And please don’t feed me deep-fried slices of pig rectum and represent them as calamari rings (true story).

Maybe it’s our crazy American aversion to the French. Some of them like horsemeat and have passed their affinity on to some of our Canadian brothers and sisters. Do they eat it with frites (Belgian fries)? Do they need steak sauce, or — if no one’s looking — ketchup? Are they eating it with some sort of aioli we have yet to conceive of?

Here’s a pertinent quote from E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web”:

Templeton was down there now, rummaging around. When he returned to the barn, he carried in his mouth an advertisement he had torn from a crumpled magazine. “How’s this?” he asked, showing the ad to Charlotte.

“It says ‘Crunchy.’ ‘Crunchy’ would be a good word to write in your web.”

“Just the wrong idea,” replied Charlotte. “Couldn’t be worse. We don’t want Zuckerman to think Wilbur is crunchy. He might start thinking about crisp, crunchy bacon and tasty ham. That would put ideas into his head. We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness.”

We must advertise Mr. Ed’s noble qualities. So get right on that, won’t you? Otherwise I’ll see you for horse lettuce wraps in someone’s breakfast nook sometime soon. Oh, boy. I’m in trouble now.

P.S. — This is my 60th Industry Standard column, thanks to everyone who reads it. I once saw someone reading my column on the bus. That was the proudest moment of my writing life. Thanks, Robin Garr and the editorial staff of LEO for letting me write this column. It’s truly been a joy.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of Juleps Catering.