but horses also get eaten …

 … so learn the important words right away.

It’s true, horses definitely seem to have a more ‘regular’ place in Swiss society than I’ve felt them to have in places where I’ve lived in the US. But the thing about Europe that I just can’t quite get used to is horse for dinner.  I first encountered this phenomenon when I was studying in Belgium as an undergrad. Actually, in many ways these first couple of weeks remind me a lot of how it felt to move to Leuven at first. Everything new, different, but not totally different, and going to the grocery store and cooking was a bit of an adventure. Not because the food was (or is) especially different — especially in 2013 thanks to global agrofood chains, big grocery stores look remarkably familiar wherever you go — but because it is simultaneously very familiar and very different.

pferd = horse

Thanks to past experiences including the shock of learning that the daily special at the student cafeteria in Leuven was paard (horse, in Flemish) and that farmers markets all had a paard slagerij  (butcher) specializing in horse steaks (and helpfully, displaying a picture of a horse on the stand), the appearance of horse meat in the Swiss grocery store was disappointing rather than shocking.

Pferd und Kartoffeln

As every horse person in the US knows, there is a thriving horse-slaughter business. Without treading into the complicated politics surrounding this controversy, I’ll just say it should be no surprise that some dogs eat horses for dinner too.

Shopping for Abbey has already involved several trips around town but we are happy that we found the Hill’s brand senior dog food that she has been eating. We also found a variety of other organic, bio, natural, specialty, etc. options that we’re experimenting with. The trick is, however, avoiding the cans that are labeled Horse & Potatoes. It seems like they might even sell “organic” horses over here – lots of the dog food I look at is organic – but really I’m not studying it that closely. Rather, I almost physically flinch when I pick up a can with horsemeat in it by mistake.  In any case, I choose the cans of food carefully and am learning to read all of the labels on the dog food cans.  And when I go to the grocery store, I just try to not look at the case where the horses are sold.

hippophagy:  n. 1. The act or practice of feeding on horseflesh. hippophagism, hippophagy

If you really insist on eating horses or feeding horses to your pooch, I doubt I will change your mind but it is worth noting that there are an awful lot of drugs that are fed to the North American horses that end up on the table in Europe. They aren’t raised as livestock or regulated or labeled the way other livestock are.  Europeans are generally (in my experience at least) more attuned to issues related to antibiotics and animal meat so this is a little surprising they are eating our discarded, drugged up racehorses, but that’s for  another day… beware!

For further reading on the subject:

  • Here’s a blog piece about eating horsemeat from Chow.com.  http://www.chow.com/food-news/53692/they-eat-horses-dont-they/
  • Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins wrote about animals we eat, and don’t. Check out his work if you are interested in an academic perspective.
  • The French are frequently associated with eating horses. If you want even more, I just found this piece which takes on the subject: “They Eat Horses, Don’t They? Hippophagy and Frenchness,” by Kari Weil.  From this I learned a new word.

In the meantime

if you come to Zurich and are looking for a local pet store, check out this cute shop, Andys Tierhüüsli on the Helvetiaplatz

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