What’s the Problem with Horse Meat?

Via Stephanie Vessely
on Mar 3, 2013
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The only thing that will change the industry is if we collectively gather until it no longer becomes profitable to sustain factory farming.

The Scandinavian company, Ikea, is the latest company found to be part of the horse meat scandal that began in Europe in January. Last Monday it was reported that horse DNA had been found in the store’s meatballs, and that it had been shipped to 12 European countries.

For now, it appears that U.S. Ikea stores have been spared from the scandal.

Every time I saw this story last week I wondered why are we so upset by the idea eating horse meat, but not other animal meat—like cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and fish?

One of the arguments I’ve heard against eating horse meat is that the drugs horses are given can be ingested by humans and are potentially harmful.

That makes sense. But the same argument holds regarding the meat here in the U.S. Our meat supply is full of hormones, pesticides and antibiotics.

So the real question is, what’s up with our food supply?

Have you ever looked into what (insert animal here) had to go through to get to your plate?

As elephant journal readers, I know a lot of us have. We’re well aware of the problems with factory farming and the horrors that are found there.

When I first learned of the abuses committed against animals in our food supply I quit eating them immediately. That was seven years ago. I’ve never looked back.

The first book I ever read on the subject of factory farming was The Food Revolution, by John Robbins. As I read the stories of mistreatment and abuse I found my stomach turning, my face reddening.

I physically felt pain.

To this day I still do, whether it’s a story about a cow in a slaughterhouse, or a beagle in a testing lab, the pain starts in my chest and radiates out to the rest of my body. And then I cry.

I do not believe that we are superior to other animals, or that we are separate from them, or from each other. I believe that I am them, and that they are me. And so when I see and hear their suffering, I suffer too.

Like in Tonglen practice, I breathe in their pain, and send out my love.

Their suffering will probably always be the tender spot in my heart.

I’ll take those feelings, because someone has to. Someone has to bear witness to their existence and to their suffering. And I hope that in some small way, by taking in their pain, I can somehow lessen it.

But I’m feeling lost these days.

Stories like the one about horse meat or this one about Walmart (and Starbucks and Nestle and Taco Bell…) discourage me. People are distraught about the idea of eating horses, but don’t think twice about what else we might be eating or how the animals are treated on their way to us.

Somehow we view horses as different from cows and pigs—one is less worthy of a peaceful life than the others. Yet I’m not sure why.

We don’t eat our dogs, cats, horses. We have an affinity for them. We relate to them and love them. We spend large sums of money on them every year.

What if we did eat dogs?

Ella the Snow DogWould we give them a really shitty year or two, and then hang them upside down, fully conscious, and run a knife down the length of their body?

Never, right?

If we did eat dogs, most likely we’d let them have happy lives. And then, when it was time, we’d humanely put them down.

So why don’t we do the same for the others? Why do we turn a blind eye to the horrors of factory farming?

This is what Frank Reese, a farmer profiled in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals said in the book:

“People care about animals. I believe that. They just don’t want to know or to pay… It’s wrong, and people know it’s wrong. They don’t have to be convinced. They just have to act differently. I’m not better than anyone and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own.”

We all have to come to our own conclusions about what’s right and wrong. I do not believe my vegetarianism makes me a better person than anyone. And I hope that’s not how this sounds.

But I do beg you to really look at what’s happening.

Read the books, watch the videos, get informed. And then ask yourself if you’re really okay with your hamburgers, omelets and pork chops.

Go inside and really sit with yourself and ask yourself if what we’re doing on those farms is okay with you.

If it is, then fine, you can stop reading now. Thanks for listening.

But if it’s not, if there’s even a twinge of discomfort, please do not turn away from it.Factory Farm Pigs

I’m not asking you to become vegetarian or vegan. It’s not my place to tell anyone what to put into their bodies.

I’m just asking you to get the facts, to know yourself well enough to know what your standards are and to live them. And if necessary, act differently.

I know that it is against my value system to eat animals, whether they are treated humanely or not. This informs countless decisions every day.

But I know that my refusal to buy and eat meat isn’t going to change anything.

The only thing that will change the industry is if we collectively gather until it no longer becomes profitable to sustain factory farming. And that will only happen if large numbers of us wake up and demand better.

Though we may act like it, we do not own this place.

If we want to take another life for our own purposes, then we have an obligation to show that animal some respect.

We need to honor it and thank it for offering its life to us. We need to let it live its life peacefully and as happily as possible. And ideally, we wouldn’t take its life. Rather, we’d take its meat only when it died naturally.

I know people love their meat. And I don’t think they have to give it up altogether. In fact, some people’s bodies need it.

But there is a better way to do it—a more kind, compassionate, mindful way of bringing food to our tables.

In Eating Animals Frank Reese also said this:

“If consumers don’t want to pay the farmer to do it right, they shouldn’t eat meat.”

I agree. If we’re not willing to spend more to make sure our animals are treated right, then we have no business taking their lives for our own pleasure.

If we treat animals humanely, if we feed them what they are supposed to eat, give them peaceful homes and stop pumping them full of chemicals, we won’t have to worry about horse meat scandals, or e coli outbreaks or whatever the next crisis will be.

If we make compassionate and mindful choices, we can begin to change the system.

As Dharma Mittra said:

“All animals are our little brothers. They fear violence. They look to us for protection.”

The animals need us. Will you act differently?



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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Stephanie Vessely

Stephanie Vessely lives in Denver, Colorado and is somewhere in the middle of a lifelong love affair with words. She feels a little out of place a lot of the time and thinks writing about herself in third person is awkward. She is regularly saved by yoga and is searching for Truth. These are a few places she’s found it: the swaying of tree branches, the ocean, the laughter of her niece and nephew and her own heart, when she can be still enough to hear it. She’s an aspiring vegan who loves travel, hates small talk and hopes to help save the animals. Someday, she’ll learn how to tap dance. In the meantime, she keeps scribbled secret notebooks and knows everything is as it should be, even if she has a hard time remembering it. Follow her on Facebook or visit her website.


5 Responses to “What’s the Problem with Horse Meat?”

  1. […] Originally published on elephant journal. […]

  2. Guest says:

    While I'm commenting to say thank you for this article, I'm also a little confused by it as well. I'd like to say that you're refusal to buy or eat animals DOES make a difference. Also, for those that don't know- there is no such thing as humanely raising an animal for human consumption. There is no humane rape that must come before, and even if the animal is allowed to be outside and eat grass- the end result is the same. I hear it all the time: "I eat eggs from HAPPY chickens, or eat beef from HAPPY cows"….how happy would we be if our sole purpose of being born into the world came with a slaughter date, and our worth depended only on another eating us?

    "I know people love their meat. And I don’t think they have to give it up altogether. In fact, some people’s bodies need it."

    This is the 360 part- either you're committed or you're not. There's no half-ass way to be compassionate . It's not "their meat" and I'm not sure why you're perpetuating that belief, as it seems you're trying to say the opposite in your article. And yes, everybody can get what they need from plant foods. Some diligence is needed, but hell- diligence is needed no matter what you're eating. I counsel plenty of people regarding nutrition who simply are not getting half of what their bodies need, yet they believe they are because they eat animals.

  3. svessely says:

    Dear Guest,

    Thanks for comment.

    I agree that in today's reality of factory-farmed meat, there is no way to be compassionate. But I do think no matter what—even if it's true that we can get all of our nutrients from a plant-based diet—people will still eat meat. As lovely as it would be, I don't foresee a world in which everyone is vegan.

    So if that's the case, couldn't we at least have a humane way for people to eat meat? Sixty years ago people got their meat from a local farm where the animals lived peaceful lives and did their animal thing. The meat was more expensive, and they didn't get nearly as much as people do today, but everyone was happy and nothing had to suffer.

    Sure, I'd also prefer if we never ate animals, and it's my personal belief that we shouldn't. But too often I think we get high and mighty and we try to shame people into not eating meat. I was trying to avoid that. (And it doesn't work.) I believe people have the right to their own values. Just as I will never eat meat, others will never stop eating meat.

    I do get my eggs from happy chickens—a local farmer so kindly shares them with myself and others. I know that the hens get to roam about and do their hen thing. So it is possible to do things differently—we just need more people on board.


  4. svessely says:

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for your comment—I agree that there is a tendency in these types of conversations to polarize and hinder. Ultimately, each body is different, and only we can know what we need. There is no one diet that will work for everyone.

    In the past when I've given up eggs the negative effects to my body and mind were enough to alert me that I needed them for my health. So you're right—the point isn't whether we should eat meat—it's how can we do so in a mindful and compassionate way?