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Eating Horses in Paris by Michael Parenti

How do you like your horse?

Image by banlon1964 via Flickr

by Michael Parenti
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Michael Parenti Blog
www.michaelparenti.org
February 28, 2013

In 1951, only five years after World War II ended, I managed to make my way to Paris where I landed a job as a courier diplomatique (messenger boy) for the United Nations Sixth General Assembly. Despite the years of war and deprivation, Paris still was a special place with its history, its cafes, galleries, bridges, ornate edifices, and narrow winding cobblestone streets, some seemingly as old as the city itself.

Recent reports about how horsemeat has been smuggled into certain meat products in England, Sweden, and elsewhere remind me of one of Paris’s unusual features of 1951: the numerous butcher shops that sold horsemeat. Such a shop usually sported a mounted life-sized horse head (made of metal or wood) above the store entrance to advertise unequivocally that the butcher specialized in the sale of horse flesh.

I ate horsemeat at a small neighborhood Parisian restaurant a number of times. It was smoothly textured and more gamy than beef. I wasn’t particularly fond of it but it did have the virtue of being affordable. In those post-war days, low-income Parisians were more inclined to eat horses than ride them.

All the talk today about how undesirable it is to consume horses carries the implication that our immense ingestion of other livestock is perfectly acceptable. We are advised not to eat horses, nor dogs, rabbits, or cats—no matter how close to starvation we might be. But devouring limitless numbers of cattle, pigs, sheep, lambs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks is quite all right.

This causes us to overlook the real problem, which is not horsemeat but meat consumption in general. The world cannot feed itself if it continues to make meat a common staple. Millions upon millions of livestock require vast amounts of grain and water, ultimately far more than the environment will be able to provide.

Aside from the survival problems raised by the consumption of immense quantities of land, water, and grain in producing meat, there is another menacing aspect: all the poisons and torture that happen along the way from the feedlot to the supermarket. For the health of the planet and for our own health and for the sake of the livestock, we should stop eating animals. Rather than calling for more regulation of meat production, we need to move entirely away from meat meals.

Originating from the top of the food chain, all animal products menace our health. Pesticides and other toxic run-offs work their way into the food and water consumed by livestock. So with wild and farmed fish, and seafood. Finally, perched at the highest rung of the food chain, we humans feast on the accumulated toxins that concentrate further in our bodies.

Many of us are unsettled about eating horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, monkeys, rodents, or alligators—which other people around the world do eat. Perhaps we should give more attention to the horrid mistreatment of domesticated livestock,  the mass produced cruelties of factory farms, the torturous stalls, the joyless overcrowded feedlots, the loads of antibiotic and hormone additives, the frequent sickness and fatal dismemberments, and the terrible toxic accumulations.

Save your health and your planet. May all animal consumption go the way of the Paris horsemeat butcher shops.

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10 Responses

  1. Timely and sensible words of wise inter-species compassion from Michael.

    It is an immensely difficult ethical dilemma to resolve. We all must eat to live, and Nature devours Herself. However, Nature also knows how to renew, flourish and conserve. Surely the first consideration must be healthy biodiversity, by whatever means?

    In my limited life experience, less often means more. It is not as though we do not have extremely experienced advocates all over the world, who can demonstrate amply by empirical example, actually how this way of living works.

    Some (threatened ~ arguably, everywhere) heritage food systems are now protected by law. My point would be, that ALL ecological food systems should be protected by international treaty and law! While any and every ecocidal, biocidal or genocidal activity by any party soever, has to be subsumed under that same law as the gravest of indictable crimes ~ and their perpetrators, no matter whom, MUST be held accountable.

    There are significant reasons to permit limited welfare conscious livestock methods of provision, but in appropriate cultural contexts, as for example here in the UK where rare breeds are conserved that would simply not exist otherwise.

    Other considerations have to do with eco-regional contexts, the domestic/wild boundary, and to how plant-food production may be sustained only by domestic animal participation; also the scope of these effects and interactions with wild species and ecosystems generally.

    A blanket approach simply does not reflect the cultural and ecological realities of diverse planetary regions, nor their often long history of resourceful human methods of production. So this conversation must be holistic, cultural and realistic. It must also face the massive dominance now of urbanized existence and the political economics of food chains.

    Albert Bartlett’s celebrated (youtube) lecture on the exponential function , makes a passing reference that is staggering in its implications, when he describes modern agriculture as a (centralized) system by which we transform (crude) oil into food. That brought me up short, though when I thought about it, I realized how true it is.

    That may be the toxic truth whose affects we must attack most vigorously, but as sentient organisms our future as a species and our “civilized” well-being depends ENTIRELY upon the health of our oceans, rivers and lakes; and in turn, the necessary proliferation of old growth forest!

    Once we get these supremely moral environmental priorities 100% straight up front and centre, we can begin to work out the ethical details of how to evaluate climate uncertainties, and provision ourselves better according to all of humanity’s specific needs; not from collective delusions about “essential” consumer luxuries nor by any corporate diktat; but with intelligent love and respect for all our fellow creatures ~ even those who are perceived enemies.

    • David, IMO until we get our ethical position straight, everything else will fall short and will not turn out well for any of us. We are speciesist and we are violent while we use sentient beings as “things”, as resources, as property. 56 billion animals are tortured and murdered each year and 3 trillion sea animals suffer the same fate, mostly for our palate pleasure. This is morally unjustifiable.

      We need to go vegan and stop using sentient beings for food, entertainment, clothing and other reasons.

      • Trish, thanks for responding to my comment.

        I have no argument with your ethical position. My inbox is full of animal rights petition requests every day, I endorse the causes of all the well-known organisations world-wide. so I have no issue with any animal welfare or environmental advocacy.

        My concern is simply practical: how do we bring about a realistic improvement in global attitudes? That is a truly daunting task unless the whole world becomes buddhist ~ a fairly improbable likelihood. We are talking here about the balance of life itself.

        Whilst doing what we can to reduce our individual ecological footprints and eliminating ALL cruelty by pressuring supermarkets and through campaigning, I reckon we must start at the top of the long list with the really big environmental crisis agenda. We must face up to the urgent job of ensuring our forest and ocean ecologies can recover and flourish through conservation/education. It may even take resource wars for attitudes to change. So far better to begin at a young age, but we have to be sure we are acting intelligently, not just in wishful ways.

        This means speaking eco-friendly Chinese to old, immensely cruel and omniverous China, just as a starter. It also means walking our talk and supporting bio-remediation and strict pollution controls. The obvious place to start is marine conservation therefore and legislating sustainable fisheries management world-wide. That may not satisfy your vegan requirements, but I assure you it is the only realistic place to start provisioning for eight billion humans. In China they used to eat people when times were dire ~ “long pig,” so let’s not be mistaken about this..

        You’re never going to convince a dirt-poor peasant that they can’t occasionally kill a pig or cook a chicken, any more than you can expect indigenous hunters to refrain from traditional methods of ethical survival. Moreover some animals can thrive and have very adequate lives as domestic adjuncts, as essential dung makers and foragers ~ only if they are well looked after of course.

        It has to be a question of what fits best, what is acceptable and appropriate. Heritage systems must be protected and sustained,. but also most importantly, the enemies of the natural world have to be prosecuted for their crimes. This biophobic machine madness has to stop.

        • Hi David,

          Firstly, I don’t promote any single issue campaigns / petitions etc for animal “rights” causes because they promote the idea that one form of animal use is worse than other forms. ALL forms of animal use are equally morally wrong. Therefore I promote veganism because veganism is the rejection of the property status of nonhuman animals and the recognition of their moral personhood. Veganism is not a diet, it’s an ethical position. All large animal groups promote speciesism in the form of single issue campaigns and they do not promote veganism, therefore I do not support any of them. Veganism should be the moral foundation of all animal groups but it is not.

          Veganism is a grassroots nonviolent political movement. It is separate from the “humane” use /welfare “movement” we have today that misleadingly calls itself “animal protection” or “animal rights”.

          You wrote <<>>

          The way we bring about a realistic improvement is to start with ourselves individually. Tolstoy said, everyone wants to change the world but no one wants to change themselves. Tolstoy is right. People like to say how they want the world to be, but they do not want to change their own behaviour. I have lots of friends who are horrified at animal “cruelty”, but then will go home to eat a burger or chicken wings or something like that. A complete disconnection. If what they are doing is brought to their attention, they would rather not know because they want to keep doing what they know is wrong because their palate pleasure and convenience is more important than doing what’s morally right. I was completely disconnected from my own participation in violence – my own animal use. But I woke up from my speciesist haze thank goodness and became vegan.

          If we truly want a nonviolent world, then we need to be nonviolent and a first step to a nonviolent life is to stop using animals for food, clothing, entertainment or other reasons. In other words, until we become vegan we are still participating in violence. That’s an inconvenient truth for many who prefer to look outwardly for answers, but animal use, which we all do, is participating in great violence. I invite people to view this online documentary http://www.Earthlings.com If that link doesn’t work, search for “Earthlings Youtube full movie”

          I know lots of Buddhists who are not vegan, they are not even vegetarian. Buddhists are just a microcosm of society. They are as speciesist as the rest of the planet and are in fact more resistant to the idea that animal use is violence than the everyday person.

          “The balance of life itself” will come about when we stop using sentient beings as “things”, as resources, as property and TRULY start respecting ALL life, not just human life. Sadly even humans are viewed as resources today.

          • Very well said Trish.

            I can’t agree with you on purely practical ecological grounds, since I cannot see how people can subsist this way without resorting to massive amounts of problematic synthetics (that must be produced/disposed of somehow) generating ever more irreconcilable ecological complexities; my own view is less is more, heritage systems, slow food, species wisdom ~ but I respect your ethical choice and admire your principled position.

            I shall check out your recommended links.

            • Hi David, Why would anyone need to resort to synthetics? There’s plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals in plants.

              I’ve been vegan for years and I am completely healthy. In fact, my doctor said I have the blood pressure of a teenager. A balanced vegan diet is completely healthy.

              According to Worldwatch Institute: 51% of greenhouse gases are from animal use industry. Enormous amounts of grain are fed to animals. Enormous amounts of soy are fed to animals. Enormous amounts of water are given to animals. And the amount of land which is flattened so animals can graze on it is just crazy. “Cattle” farming is the number one destructive force in the Amazon Rainforest. I could go on and on with what is wrong with animal use. There’s so much wrong with animal agriculture, not least of which is the violence, that it’s completely insane to continue. Animal use is not only violence, it’s killing us and the planet and every sentient being is paying for our selfishness and speciesism.

              Being vegan for me is the minimum standard of decency.

              Here’s couple of links which you might find interesting —

              The Disaster of animal agriculture.

              http://uvearchives.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/on-the-environmental-disaster-of-animal-agriculture/

              The Importance of Being Vegan

              http://gentleworld.org/the-importance-of-being-vegan/

              Thanks for listening
              cheers :)

            • I’ve viewed the first third of Earthlings so far, as I’d never seen it. That is as tough as it gets. Frankly I can’t watch it in one sitting.

              I understand all this full well and it is an immensely powerful message that cannot be countered nor countenanced. .

              Forty-five years ago now I worked on a local farm in S Wales and soon learned the grim realities, but it was never as brutal and despicable as what is portrayed here.

              I do get it Trish, I wish it was easier to deal with. I remember when Babe was a great box-office hit and bacon sales dropped. This is not a simple row to hoe, but surely the strictest humanitarian legislation and accountable oversight is an irreversible step toward an alleviation of this holocaust of pain? Change will be hard, but it must come through public awareness and changes in the law.

              It’s also hard for many people to believe that the USA is so primitive and unfeeling a place. It is no different in kind elsewhere, only the scale of things is so vastly disproportionate. The inexorable logic of food-lots and GM feed-stuffs is fascistic and Orwellian in its cold totalitarian methodology. Little wonder people are so sick, cruel and deranged, ingesting and perpetuating such despicable visceral karma.

          • My reference to synthetics was more related to textile requirements. I was assuming you won’t condone use of wool and of course leather for shoes. I can’t wear plastic shoes. So far as textiles go, I think humanely managed sheep’s wool is a fabulous substance, together with hemp.

            Anyway I’ll look at the other links you provided since my last post. This needs to be a big conversation all round the world. Personally I think the bottom line issue is the bottom line profit motive ~ just for its own ideological sake, and the sanctity of the “free” market divorced from ethical, ecological or moral questions.

            Humanity needs to go back to the drawing board..

  2. Michael,

    I’m vegan for ethical reasons, because using sentient beings as resources is morally unjustifiable. We torture and murder 56 billion nonhumans / year mostly for our palate pleasure each year and 3 trillion plus sea animals suffer the same fate each year. Not only is this tremendous violence, but it’s killing us and the planet. 51% of greenhouse gases are from animal use industry according to Worldwatch Institute. Large green groups and government ignore this “inconvenient truth”. Apparently we love our palate pleasure and habits over our own survival. If anyone has read Chris Hedges “The Myth of Human Progress”, it explains a lot :)

    I would urge everyone to think about our speciesist indoctrination since birth, a lie that we are told — that other animals are here for our use. We need to seeing with fresh eyes.

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