▲ Fish 'n' chips for horse 'n' chips? Not judging by initial reactions, but the meat has a long history of consumption on Jeju Island, if not in Britain. Photo courtesyJeju Special Self-Governing Province
For a country that prides itself on its playful affinity with language it resembled a national festival. In January 2013, horsemeat was found to be contaminating pork and beef products across the country and the British public were sent into “OUTRAGE” (Daily Express). It was official: We were no better than the French, l’ancien yardstick of savagery!
The overwhelming response was predictably humor. We British believe we have a unique affinity with wordsmithery, as if the humble pun was long exiled by that infamous fog that cut off the continent. Every now and then our logophilia is given extra oxygen as comedians - everyone, apparently - tap into the national consciousness and engage in endless one upmanship.
The horsemeat scandal was the perfect storm, ingeniously combining Francophobia with Tesco’s jokes. It was possibly the greatest celebration of British culture the world has ever seen. Wordy horseplay consumed Britons - as Britons consumed horse - and hours stretched to days and then weeks. Equine puns became a form of daily sustenance - a linguistic five-a-day.
There was talk of "unicorn on the cob,” prices remaining “stable,” burgers giving people the “trots,” and rumors that “My Lidl Pony” would soon be on the shelves. MPs even got involved, with John Prescott Tweeting that the scandal was the “mane news item on Twitter.” People thought it wouldn’t last “furlong,” but then there were claims of zebra meat in Tesco’s barcodes.
The endless mirth can partly be explained by Britons’ regard for eating horse. Europe has always been a misunderstood land where the people philosophize, express emotions, talk funny and eat horsemeat. Nothing could be more symbolic of what Britons are not: We just don’t eat horse (knowingly).
11 months on - with the nation barely recovered (still feeling a little horse) - Horsemeat Gate was reopened, courtesy of the Queen’s daughter - and 1976 Olympian equestrian - Princess Anne. The horse lover defied the neigh-sayers by pleading with the British public to swallow not only their prejudices, but select cuts of the animal.
A market for horsemeat, the Princess believes, would increase its worth and improve welfare for elderly beasts often neglected and abandoned to the knacker’s yard.
Horse-lover Princess Anne’s (left) call for horsemeat consumption was rejected by David Cameron (right) who dislikes foreign habits. Photo courtesy Carfax2 (left); Prime Minister's Office (right)
“The value of the animal to every individual is slightly different, but if it has real financial value then you look a little bit further ahead in the way you look after your animals," she said to the World Horse Welfare Conference, of which she is president.
According to The Daily Express,the British public were sent into “OUTRAGE” (again) by the suggestion. Prime Minister David Cameron was also less than sympathetic.
“I know it’s something that happens in other countries but I think we should stick to our non-horse eating habits,” said the horsemeat-loathing xenophobe.
Is Cameron right to turn his nose up at Princess Anne? As the blue-blood attempts to shove horsemeat down British throats, Jeju officials are doing the very same here, with far more success.
Lee Sun-ho, a member of Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC), recently wrote in The Korea Times that the Jeju horse should be a central pillar of Jeju’s industry and all things equine should be fostered, from the racing to the riding to the eating.
Lee, perhaps conscious of public uneasiness, stresses there are many horsemeat-eating cultures across the world. Not only that, it is lean, high in protein, contains one third of the fat of beef or pork, and, alongside pigs and cows, is one of Jeju’s “three black treasures.”
Historical circumstance led to Jeju becoming a “paradise for horses” and despite mainland taboos against it, horsemeat was heartily devoured. Jeju’s horse heritage owes much to the 13th-century Mongol occupation when local horses were interbred with steppe imports, creating the recognizable breed we have today. Up until the Joseon Dynasty, Jeju was thus a giant paddock.
While the British squirm at the very thought of eating horse, Jeju people revel in what is regarded as an upmarket delicacy. Princess Anne may well have reservations about horse welfare on the island, but she is sure to find plenty of kindred spirits extolling the benefits of the meat.
Rather than saddling up with either Princess Anne or David Cameron, why not dine on an equine friend before taking sides? You might think you could never truly eat a horse, but the Jeju ones are only small, a veritable My Lidl Pony.
Jeju horses for courses
Course 1: Ground bone tea, sashimi, steak tartare, raw liver
Course 2: Grilled steak with sesame oil, raw large intestine, rib soup
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