Friday, May 28, 2010

A horse is a horse, of course, of course

I think I need to talk about my decision to serve horse meat at Bistro 7 1/4. To begin, I want all of you to know, this is not a decision I made lightly. Many of the things I do are spontaneous or whimsical, but this decision is something I have been wrestling with for 2 years.

Personally, I don't have any problem eating horse meat. (I will get in to my own reasons shortly.) But serving horse meat has stirred up some controversy. I have a very good customer who informed me she would not be coming to our restaurant as long as we have horse meat on the menu. Another customer, who owns horses, joked after finishing his meal here that he would have to go home and count his horses. There was a little on line discussion about the ethics of horse meat on our facebook page. Other customers have been excited by it and have wanted to try it. Those who try it, enjoy it.

Before I get into this discussion, I want to tell you a little story about rabbits. I was serving rabbit pot pie as a lunch special one day. When a customer heard what the special was, she started to cry, told us she had rabbits for pets, and walked out. I don't know if she ever returned. What I wanted to say to her was that although people have rabbits as pets, the rabbits I was serving were not anyone's pets. These rabbits were raised for food in the same way we raise chicken, pigs and cows for food.

Eating horse meat is perfectly acceptable in some cultures, and totally taboo in others. France, has restaurants devoted to the preparation and service of horsemeat; but just across the channel in England the idea of eating horse is horrific. The United States has predominantly followed the English example. In Canada, it is a little more complicated. English speaking Canada is generally opposed to the use of horse meat, but in Quebec it is far more acceptable. All through the world, you will find examples where horse is accepted and counter-examples where it is strictly forbidden.

In a multi-cultural society, we are always dealing with the questions of what is acceptable and what is taboo. For Jews and Muslims, eating pig is taboo. Hindus don't eat cow. Very few of us, eat bugs, although that is a common food staple in much of the world. I don't think i could eat the meat of a dog, but if i was in a place where it was culturally acceptable would i turn it down? For some of my customers, eating any meat at all is wrong.

I guess what it comes down to is the ethical choices we make as individuals, and the lines that we draw for ourselves. Every time you put food in your mouth, you make an ethical choice. And these choices are complex. Is it organic? Was it humanely raised? Does its production or shipping harm the environment? How much was the farmer paid for his work? Was the farmer treated fairly? Who are we supporting by paying for this food? The list goes on.

The ethical decision includes what species of animal we are okay with. I believe, that if you are willing to eat one type of animal, you should be able to eat any type. I say this, but i know that I would draw a line somewhere. And that's what it is all about. Where do you draw the line? Some people eat fish, but not fowl. Some eat no meat, but dairy and eggs are fine. Others avoid all animal products. And others, eat whatever you put in front of them.

As a restaurant owner and chef, I make ethical decisions about what I will serve every day. I don't always make the right one. Sometimes price, convenience or expedience wins out over the "right" choice. Sometimes the "right" choice isn't clear. I may have conflicting "goods". Which is better, organic lettuce grown 2000 miles away shipped in plastic bags or non-organic lettuce grown a few miles down the road with the mud still on the roots? I choose to buy much of my meat from local farmers. I choose, for the most part, fish that is considered sustainable. I use eggs that come from free run chickens. I support small, local grocers.

But once I have made the menu, the ethical decisions don't stop with me. You, the customer get to make those choices in what you order. If you think eating pork is wrong, then you will choose not to order it. Some people come to my restaurant, the "home-of-giant-grilled-hammer-chop", and order strictly vegetarian food. Some vegans come, and trust me to make them some thing special. Maybe you like duck but think foie gras is wrong. Then I suggest you order the duck and not the foie. Maybe you choose to only order organic wines.

And so, if you come in and I am serving horse, don't get upset with me. Just don't order it. If no one orders horse, it won't stay on the menu very long.

Is it wrong to serve or eat horse? I don't think so. At least it is no more or less wrong than eating cow or any other animal. So back to the question of why I put horse on the menu. Partly because it is a tasty, healthy meat. But I guess i wanted to engage in this very debate. The horse meat controversy is a catalyst for a lively debate about the ethics of food.

So, I invite any of you to come down to talk to me, email me ( or post comments on this blog. This conversation is worth having.

Everyday I make choices, I don't always make the right ones. But I sure do think about them a lot. And I guess that is my point. We all need to think about the food we put in our mouth.