Articles

HUNGRY ENOUGH TO EAT A HORSE?

Thousands of Canadians are. And new fully licensed shops are opening by the dozen to serve them. Even many people who can afford the soaring price of beefsteak have discovered that Old Paint is tender, tasty and half the price

JAMES BANNERMAN November 15 1951
Articles

HUNGRY ENOUGH TO EAT A HORSE?

Thousands of Canadians are. And new fully licensed shops are opening by the dozen to serve them. Even many people who can afford the soaring price of beefsteak have discovered that Old Paint is tender, tasty and half the price

JAMES BANNERMAN November 15 1951

HUNGRY ENOUGH TO EAT A HORSE?

Articles

JAMES BANNERMAN

WE CANADIANS have always been proud of our standard of living and, in our pride, we’ve tended to look down on Europeans for their willingness to use thrifty substitutes. But now it’s different. We’ve not only had to get down off our high horse. We’ve started to eat it.

Early this year the price of beef, which had been rising slowly and steadily ever since the war, climbed to the point where prime cuts cost ninetyfive cents a pound in some places and tenderloin ran to $1.40. Those were the going prices in Edmonton last spring when a couple of butchers named Moore and Ferguson opened the Pony Market— the first shop in Canada ever licensed to sell horsemeat for human consumption.

The new store did a land-office business in horse sirloin steaks at thirty-five cents a pound, top quality roasts at thirty-six, ground steak at a quarter, and even the finest tenderloins at forty cents. With prices like that, pioneers Ferguson and Moore couldn’t lose.

As I write this so many others have followed their lead that there are about fifty horsemeat shops in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, with still more on the way.

Ontario has one horsemeat shop in Cornwall; Toronto and Hamilton and several other Ontario cities are considering whether to follow suit.

The federal government has no objection to the sale of horsemeat for human consumption anywhere in this country provided certain conditions are complied with. Otherwise regulation of sale is entirely up to provincial and municipal authorities. The federal government requires, under the Meat and Canned Foods Act, that eating horsemeat sent from one province to another must come only from horses slaughtered in a special establishment one which mustn’t slaughter any other kind of animal and which must be under the inspection of the Federal Department of Agriculture. Under the Food and Drugs Act any eating horsemeat sold in any form in Canada must always be plainly labeled as horsemeat.

What provincial and municipal authorities do about horsemeat varies from place to place. At the provincial level, Alberta and Saskatchewan have special laws governing its sale and so far they’re the only provinces that have. If and when the rest get round to passing laws of their own, it seems likely they’ll follow the basic requirements

of the laws of Alberta and Saskatchewan—that horsemeat for human consumption must be federally inspected and approved, that it can’t be sold in stores that sell any other kind of meat, and that restaurants which serve horsemeat or any dish containing it must state that fact clearly on the menu.

Brisk Business in Dobbin Brisket

Municipal authorities can either control the local sale of horsemeat by passing bylaws to regulate it, or prevent it by refusing to grant licenses to sell it in their communities. Sale of horsemeat in Montreal City is prevented by a 1917 bylaw which states that only horsemeat killed in a municipal abattoir may be sold. Montreal has no municipal abattoir. But an ex-car salesman named Paul Poirier is doing a brisk business in four horsemeat shops situated strategically at Montreal’s four main bridges just outside the city.

The reason for careful inspection of horsemeat applies equally to beef and pork and lamb or for that matter any meat. Like hogs and steers and other animals, horses are subject to diseases—

COVERNMENT INSPECTED HORSE MEAT! 43« Sausage QCP Two »tjlf».....lb, Waffle Steaks 07c Tenderlrad ... lb. I ^ Round Steak OC. Mlncrd ....... lb. WW* Pot Roast 07« flonnd ....... lb. VI" T-Bone 40« New York Steaks Round Steak 07« TENDER, YOUNG MONTANA COLTS MONARCH MEAT CO. VANCOUVER

Thousands of Canadians are. And new fully licensed shops are opening by the dozen to serve them. Even many people who can afford the soaring price of beefsteak have discovered that Old Paint is tender, tasty and half the price

tuberculosis for example— which make eating it dangerous to health. And the reason horsemeat has to be plainly labeled is that it’s enough like beef to make fraudulent substitution easy.

The color is usually a deeper red that darkens quickly with exposure to the air. The fat is a darker yellow than beef fat, there’s less of it, what there is has a softer texture, and it doesn’t appear in the lean meat like streaks in marble the way fat does in good beef. Because horses have more of a sugarlike substance called glycogen in their systems than cattle, horsemeat tends to have a sweetish smell. Some veterinarians insist all these differences are so marked anyone ought to be able to recognize horsemeat writh great ease, or at any rate be sure it isn’t beef. But other veterinarians claim it’s virtually impossible to say which is which without making tests in a laboratory.

It isn’t possible to give more than an estimate of the amount of horsemeat Canada’s licensed horsemeat shops are selling between them because so far there are virtually no official figures to go by. But it seems probable the total might be up around two hundred tons a week. Montreal’s Paul Poirier, for instance, is selling about (325 pounds a day in each of his four shops. In Manitoba’s two horsemeat shops—one in Winnipeg and the other in adjacent St. Boniface about 3700 pounds are sold each week.

Besides this brisk legitimate trade there’s a flourishing black market. Horseleggers are understandably secretive about their business, which is to sell horsemeat as beef to respectable but unsuspicious retail butchers, but federal, provincial and local health authorities in the Toronto area told me in October—at which time the sale of horsemeat wasn’t licensed therethat, anywhere from five to fifteen or twenty tons of illicit horsemeat were coming into the city every week. And there’s little or no reason to suppose horseleggers aren't operating in plenty of other Canadian cities, too.

Europeans, and particularly Frenchmen and Belgians, eat millions of pounds of horsemeat every year. But contrary to popular opinion over here they don’t cherish it for its own sake, and those

who can afford beef don’t buy horsemeat. On the other hand those who have to eat horsemeat don’t regard it as a hardship by any means. And most Canadians who have started to eat it since it’s been on the domestic market seem to feel the same way.

Considering how we used to snoot horsemeat, and that Canadians are well up among the most conservative eaters on earth, it’s strange there hasn’t been more reluctance to try this novelty. Some people have been pretty tentative about it, like the Vancouver woman, one of the first horsemeat shoppers in that city, who practically begged the butcher to assure her she’d like it. But two months after it first went on sale in the Best Bi food shop in Vancouver, the Best Bi and its rivals had around ten thousand satisfied customers and were getting others by the hundreds every week. And it’s the same story everywhere else it’s sold.

Cheval Cutlets for the Carriage Trade

The price makes horsemeat attractive to former beef-eaters with strictly limited budgets. Horsemeat. prices last month ranged from 43 cents a pound for sirloin tip in Vancouver’s Monarch Meat Co. (which imports its meat from Montana) to 75 cents a pound for sirloin in Montreal (meat shipped from the Co-operative Horse Processors plant at Swift Current, Saak.). But butchers who expected to get practically all their trade from people in the lower income brackets, and especially foreign-born Canadians accustomed to eat ing horsemeat back home, have found they’re also doing plenty of business with customers from the twocar-garage set. And since economy isn’t the main attraction of horsemeat for such well-heeled folks it’s obvious they really like the taste once they’ve tried it.

In the light of an experiment made a week before Vancouver’s first horsemeat shop opened last June, that isn’t surprising. Mrs. Margaret Henderson, director of the modern kitchen department of the Vancouver Daily Province, fried two steaks topped with onions and served

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portions of each to seven men and women on the newspaper’s staff—the idea being to see if they could tell which j was horsemeat and which beef.

Tommy Weeden from the composing I room said steak No. 1 was horsemeat (“Mm-mm . . . good!”) and No. 2 was beef. Eleanor Putnam, a secretary, agreed with him. Fred Goodchild, the chief librarian, said it was just the other way round, and that he knew because steak No. 1 was more tender than j No. 2. Columnist Jean Howarth sided j with Tred. Ethel Post, the paper’s shopping expert, said both steaks tasted alike to her and as far as she was concerned they could be beef or horsemeat. Dick Diespecker, radio director of the Province, couldn’t tell j the difference either. Sportswriter Alf j Cottrell ate a mouthful of steak No. 1, | said it tasted like the last horse he bet ! on, and didn’t bother sampling No. 2 j because he already knew what beef tasted like.

Both steaks were from the same horse.

Since those pioneer days, Sheila Craig, food columnist of the Winnipeg j Tribune, has printed horsemeat recipes.

Although a lot of Canadians have taken happily to horsemeat right from 1 the start, a lot of others resist the whole j idea with great vigor on various j grounds, chiefly because they’re set in their eating habits and don’t want to change, or because they have “humanitarian” scruples.

The Vancouver local of the International Woodworkers of America (CCL) passed a resolution early this summer opposing the use of horsemeat for human consumption, and felt strongly enough to hint that any camp cook who served it to them would be run clean out of the bush. And when the city council of New Westminster, B.C.,

¡ was debating last July whether to grant licenses to sell horsemeat there, Aiderman Elizabeth Wood was dead against it, saying she was born and raised on a farm and would no more eat horsemeat than human flesh. She added as a clincher that the horse was next to human in intelligence, a point few if any specialists in animal psychology are prepared to concede.

Signs of a Buying Jag

While Edmonton councilors were making up their minds to allow horsemeat to be sold in that city, a Mr. : Patrick Ashby wrote to a local paper saying it would be a disgrace and a | blow to Christian people. And Art j Evans, an Edmonton newspaperman, suggested that “cowpokes of the breed ! that take care of their ponies first and ! themselves last are going to give the town a wide berth. No self-respecting waddy,” he added, “is going to take a chance on having Old Paint pulled out from under him by a mob carrying salt shakers.” Edmonton went ahead anyway and so did New Westminster.

There doesn’t seem to have been any organized public resistance to horsemeat anywhere. That is not to say there haven’t been enough cries of indignation and shouts of approval to make horsemeat the most controversial food issue this country has ever had apart from the recent nation - wide hassle over margarine. Most taxpayers in the cities and towns affected have j just sat on the side lines, arguing the j merits of horsemeat among themselves j if they happen to be interested enough, | and generally getting back sooner or later to the fundamental problem of the dizzy cost of beef.

In Toronto, for instance, the legal

sale of horsemeat first became a really live issue early last September, when a couple of Regina men applied for licenses to open horsemeat shops. They planned to open a chain of at least five stores in Toronto if they got the green light from the city.

While the Toronto municipal authorities debated, the citizens reacted to the prospect of getting to buy horsemeat pretty much as Edmontonians and Vancouverites had done before them. When the city fathers of Cornwall, Ont., came through with a by-law allowing horsemeat to be sold in stores not handling any other kind of meat, a local butcher-and-grocer cleared out his stock of standard meat I and replaced it with horsemeat. When the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder sent a photographer round the morning of the second day to get pictures of the rush, there wasn’t any rush: the

butcher was already sold out.

Since the opening of horsemeat shops in Quebec there have been signs of a mild meat-buying jag, especially in the shops on the outskirts of Montreal. At the Pont Viau store a butcher’s delivery truck stopped outside the store and a boy got out of it, went into the store and bought two pounds of sirloin horsemeat. A truck driver bought eight slices of sirloin, each cut two inches thick. One old man, poorly dressed, bought four thick slices of ! steak. Other people, mostly French! speaking, buy steak in great pieces, six i and eight pounds at a time.

The swift spread of horsemeat eating : has already raised the question of how

much horsemeat there is available, and how long the supply wil! last. Canadian : consumption has reached maybe four

hundred thousand pounds a week and is steadily increasing. But the horse population of Canada is just as steadily Í decreasing. In 1921 there were 3,610,494 horses on the country’s farms, but by June 1950 there were only 1,683,000. And by the end of that year the horse population was 1,594,500—down almost another hundred thousand in six months.

These figures are for farm horses only and don’t include the wild ranch horses which are our principal source of eating meat. The drop in farm horses is obviously due to their growing replace| ment by tractors and other machinery, and not to slaughtering for food. But although nobody knows for surç how many wild horses there are in Canada, it’s certain there aren’t nearly as many roaming the range as there are tame horses on farms. And the wild ones were being slaughtered for human food long before we began eating horsemeat here at home.

We’ve been exporting them for years J to be eaten abroad, in France and

Holland and particularly in Belgium. From 1946 to 1949 alone, 55,000 were sent to Europe to become other people’s steaks and stews. And the new domestic market is absorbing horsemeat by the carload every week, plus a much smaller but still considerable, amount imported from the United States.

Apart from American imports, most of the horsemeat sold legitimately anywhere in Canada as from September 1951 came from one or other of the two plants of the Canadian Co-operative Processors Limited, at Swift Current, Sask., and Edmonton, Alta. That’s because its plants were the only ones in this country approved by the federal government under the Meat and Canned Foods Act. And since almost without exception federal approval is a must wherever the sale of horsemeat is licensed by provincial or local authorities, that gave the Co-op a virtual monopoly.

Dynamite in the Chain Stores

It was started five years ago by a group of western farmers and ranchers who wanted to get rid of surplus horses on the ranges to conserve grass, and at the same time make some money. They did both. Since the beginning almost two hundred thousand prairie horses have been slaughtered for meat - more than thirty thousand of them in the year ending March 31, 1951. This represents a return to the Co-op members of nearly five and a half million dollars and a total turnover of at least fifteen million dollars—so far of course almost entirely in export business — besides conserving enough grass to support a good four hundred thousand cattle and other livestock.

The Co-op, and other outfits that may get approval in the future and start competing are obviously a heavy drain on the horse population. So far nobody in the country seems to have begun breeding horses specially to be eaten, and most well-informed authorities agree that we’ll have slaughtered and eaten our way clean through the supply of Canadian horses not needed for farm or other work by 1956 at the latest, and perhaps even a year or two earlier.

That’s probably one of the main reasons why the big meat packers haven’t so far bothered lobbying against the sale of horsemeat and apparently don’t intend to. A representative of one of the biggest packers said horsemeat sales were undoubtedly hurting beef sales a little but not enough to be taken seriously, and he didn’t think they ever would. He also said he expected to see the difference in price narrow down as the demand for horsemeat increased and the supply

diminished, which would naturally lessen its bargain-appeal.

When I asked an official of one of the country’s largest chain stores whether they were considering selling horsemeat he said: “Absolutely not. It’s pure dynamite where we’re concerned. And you can bet your life that goes for all the other chains.”

Horsemeat can be dynamite on the illegal or black market side tooif something goes wrong and the law catches up. In Toronto in September R. F. Newton and Percy Boyd were convicted of selling horsemeat to certain of the city’s retail meat dealers as boneless beef. The dealers were also charged with having sold it as beef, but the charges were dismissed when the magistrate was satisfied on the evidence of veterinarians that what the law calls “reasonable diligence” in examining the meat wasn’t really enough to show it was horsemeat and not beef. But Newton was given a jail sentence of thirty days, which he appealed, and he and bis employee Boyd were ordered to pay a total of close to a thousand dollars each in fines and costs. In late September a man in Montreal East was fined five hundred dollars for taking four carcasses of horses into bis store.

Half a Ton on the Black

To show you how a horselegger operates I’m taking the facts I’ve gathered—mostly from people who for various reasons can’t be named but who know what they’re talking about —and putting them all together into a kind of composite case-history that carries a typical black-market horsemeat deal from start to finish.

The deal begins one morning when a former legitimate butcher turned horselegger drives from the city to a village away out in the country. Near the village there’s a slaughterhouse that looks like a big tumbledown barn with a few dirty once-whitewashed open stalls alongside it. The owner of the slaughterhouse buys wornout old horses from the farmers of the district and kills them for sale to fox and mink breeders as animal food. The slaughterer also buys horses that have already died of old age or disease, or ailing horses whose farmer-owners have got tired of paying a veterinarian to look after them and want them destroyed.

He can sell the miserable and often infected meat perfectly legally for about eight or nine cents a pound because it’s bought to feed animals and not people. But when the horselegger arrives with a small truck that morning and offers him sixteen to eighteen cents a pound for it, the slaughterer is delighted to sell him half a ton or so and no questions asked.

Since the horselegger’s only place of business is a room in a boardinghouse, he has nowhere to store the stuff until he’s ready for the next step in the transaction. So he drives to a legitimate meat-storage firm not too far from the centre of town, rents a freezing locker and stashes the horsemeat away in that. After which he goes the round of the retail butchers he deals with —there are only four or five on his listand offers them anything from fifty to five hundred pounds of boneless beef at fifty cents a pound, or whatever price the big legitimate meat wholesalers are quoting that day. The retail butchers bargain with him, he climbs down a couple of cents a pound, and they buy.

Later in the afternoon the horselegger drives up to his customers’ back doors in an ordinary passenger car and delivers the horsemeat straight from the freezing-locker in big baskets—as boneless beef. The butchers, who may

well have bought it in good faith, sell it for hamburger, either pure or mixed with real beef. And that’s that. The butcher has saved himself two or three cents a pound, and the horselegger has made about thirty cents a pound profit.

Horsemeat that’s sold legally and has been properly inspected is every bit as wholesome as the finest beef. And for all working purposes they’re so much alike that, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, most people can’t tell one from the other.

Louis Verbeek, a Belgian who is the chief butcher in charge of Paul Poirier’s Quebec stores, says that horsemeat has to be cut differently from beef by the butcher. You never saw through a bone in horsemeat, you cut around it, and all cuts of horsemeat are boneless. There are sixty-nine different cuts in horsemeat—proportionately more sir loin and more roast meat, which makes the sale more profitable.

Horsemeat boiled is not as good as beef, says Verbeek. Nor does it make good fresh sausage. But it is superior in bologna and salami. The liver and heart are good, but the kidneys are not. Colt brains and sweetbreads, he asserts, are better than veal. Horses between three and six are ideal for meat.

One interesting sidelight: White

horses are not used for human consumptionsomething in the skin pigment spoils the meat.

Some horsemeat dealers wish they could find another word for their product—just as pigmeat is called pork. Lew Sherwood, manager of Vancouver’s Monarch Meat Co., has toyed with the idea of promoting “cheval.” An editorial in the Vancouver Sun tried to be helpful by suggesting “Braised Ribs Seabiscuit,’’ “Nag’s Head Stew” and “Cold Cuts Paul Revere.”

j An Extra Bit of Bay

Since horsemeat is both leaner and i a little drier than beef, some cooks I advise wrapping roasts in aluminum foil to tenderize it and keep the rich juices in while it’s in the oven, but I think it can be roasted just as well and maybe even better by whatever method you ordinarily use to roast beef. And the same goes for frying, grilling, braising, and every other cooking method there is.

There’s just one thing. If you happen to be among the comparatively few people who are so sensitive to the slight sweetish taste of horsemeat that it puts them off it, maybe you’d do well to use it chiefly as a base for stews. And in that case put in an extra bit of bay leaf or whatever seasoning you generally use in your beef stews.

In one way horsemeat isn’t really new in Canada at all. On the contrary it’s as old as Canada. Because when the Rocky Mountains surged up from the heaving surface of the earth about forty-five million years ago they formed a great stone wall that sheltered their eastern slopes and the plains beyond them. And the climate behind the wall turned out to be exactly right for the development of a race of long-legged, weak-chinned little animals about the size of fox terriers, which were the direct ancestors of every horse now j alive.

So when the Pony Market opened j in Edmonton last March to sell eating horsemeat for the first time in Canada it was dealing in a product that made its first appearance anywhere on earth in those very parts. And now that horsemeat is rapidly becoming a normal sight on Canadian dinner tables as succulent tenderloin, fragrant potroast or savory stew, we’re learning a ! mouthwatering new meaning for that

__xpressive old phrase“I’m'so hungry

)uld eat a horse!” ★