Horse Tartar at the MoMA?
A guest blog by James McWilliams
The chef of the M. Wells Dinette, Hugue Dufour, who opened at MoMA PS 1 last week in New York City, is the brainchild behind a new culinary creation (one that he says he might put on his menu): horse tartar. The stunt isn’t new. Last May, the chef served a horse-meat bologna and foie gras grilled cheese sandwich at a food festival in the city. Adventure eating foodies got a perverse thrill out of it, posting pictures of the heart-stopper all over the foodie blogospere. The story has been covered by Vickery Eckhoff, who knows more about the politics of horse slaughter than anyone else. (Her stories on the topic–written for Forbes–are fantastic).
The sale of horse meat is illegal in the United States. The Dinette evidently intends to source it from Canada (where the sale and slaughter is legal), but the meat is not USDA approved, so it would still be illegal to serve it at MoMA PS1. The restaurant evidently isn’t answering phone calls nor is Mr. Dufour returning e-mails. Horse advocates–a rare breed of activist–are incensed. The restaurant’s owner declared “There is no story.” Weirdly, the media has kind of agreed (thankfully, not Eckhoff).
WHY is horse meat illegal in the US? The answer is pretty simple–-turns out horse meat poses unique health hazards to humans as a result of the the numerous drugs horses are routinely given throughout their lifetime–mostly painkillers–many of them explicitly banned by the FDA. Given what a horse destined for a slaughterhouse is dosed with throughout the course of his life, eating horse meat makes pink slime look like a healthy snack.
The irony here is that adventure-eating foodies who would never deign to eat a piece of conventionally produced steak because of all the growth hormones etc etc are, by eating horse meat, exposing themselves to a much more complex chemical cocktail of snake venom, steroids, Clenbuterol, Banamine, Ivermectin, and a host of other drugs when they sit down to Dufour’s table. These drugs make horse meat far more contaminated than beef, pork, or any other meat sold legally in the US. When horse meat is raw, the risk of exposure is especially acute.
Not to mention the ethics of this raw mess of a meal, one that I hope never makes it to Dufour’s sinister menu.
James McWilliams is a professor at Texas State University and the author of four books on food and agriculture, including Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We can Truly Eat Responsibly. His work appears regularly in Slate, The New York Times, Harper’s, The Washington Post, and the Atlantic.com. He blogs at his Eating Plants Blog and lives in Austin.