Would You Eat Horse Meat? — Understanding Cross-Cultural Food Taboos

When we hear the words “food taboo,” we often conjure up horrifying thoughts of eating dogs or horses; you may gag, or your skin could crawl, at the idea of consuming animals which many Americans would consider members of the family. Yet ask someone from Salento, Italy, about their opinions on horse meat, and they may enthusiastically reply that it’s a delicacy often featured in dishes like pezzetti di carne al pomodoro. 
As food is becoming globalized, more countries are adopting what I would call the Universal Modern Cuisine — the diet most prominent in America, which revolves around grains and which, more importantly, holds many taboos against meat. As a result of this, the practice of eating horse meat is slowly declining, even in Italy. Regardless, Italy still remains the largest consumer of horse meat in the European Union, and its consumption is much more normalized in Italy than in the U.S. Given horse meat’s prevalence in Italy, it’s clearly enjoyable for many and must not have any adverse health effects for the consumer — yet most Americans would be extremely wary of any restaurant advertising this delicacy. Since we have already established that there is nothing inherently unhealthy or dangerous associated with eating horse meat, why do millions of people still avoid it for seemingly no reason?

Show Me State

My lone assumption going into the Cornell Horse Show at the Oxley Equestrian Center on Sunday was that the show would be outdoors. In my imagination the show took place on a spacious, sunlit course presumably made of grass. In reality, however, the show took place in a claustrophobic indoor course, lit by buzzing fluorescent lights, in desperate need of ventilation. “It would be a disaster if it were outdoors,” scoffed Katie Allero (as we’ll call her), a senior rider for Colgate, when I asked her if this venue is considered normal. Perhaps I deserved to get scoffed at. My knowledge of horses is limited to Seabiscuit and repressed childhood memories of Black Beauty; maybe I shouldn’t have been pressing my assumptions on an experienced collegiate rider.