What upset me most about Europe’s “horsemeat scandal” the first time I read about it was that “horsemeat” is one word, not two. I never looked up the style convention. I didn’t know there was one–because who in the English-speaking world writes about horsemeat?
The first time I tried horse was on one of my first nights in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Some new friends from my host university directed our cab driver to a restaurant somewhere in Almaty’s version of Silver Lake–a little seedy, very young and with what our friends affectionately termed “Kazakh toilets” (that is, outhouses). They led me to a corner table and told the waiter what I wanted before I could grab a menu. He brought me a platter of incredible, rich, lean shashlik. I didn’t think to ask what it was until I’d finished a stick.
You know where this is going, of course–I’ve only used the word “horsemeat” because it was horse. At subsequent dinner, I tried horse jerky, horse salami and horse samplers. It’s really, really good, especially with cognac and lemon. If you come across a platter, I recommend it.
Of course I don’t want horse masquerading as my all-beef burger. Labels should be accurate. I get that (and, generally, reporting on this story has focused on that). It’s just that I don’t think it would’ve been a story if it was about other parts of the cow, or about pork, or about any other animal we eat regularly. The story wouldn’t have an audience beyond the folks on either side of food labeling if, broadly, we acknowledged that the act of eating horse is not inherently bad.
I’m trying to wax poetic about this and failing, probably because that’s the (insert your own meat pun here, or use) crux of the conflict: That which the West calls wrong is not wrong on every continent, and that which we endorse is not necessarily right. Comfortable does not mean correct, familiar does not mean true, and discomfort and skepticism do not imply that an action is wrong. Sometimes discomfort and skepticism are exactly what they seem to be. And — I remind myself as I print the last pages on my study abroad application — I hope neither weighs more than curiosity.