Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: The right to pick the meat you eat

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Eating animals like horses, cats and dogs might not be for everyone, but Shelley Bridgeman says we're all entitled to choose our food. Photo / Thinkstock
Eating animals like horses, cats and dogs might not be for everyone, but Shelley Bridgeman says we're all entitled to choose our food. Photo / Thinkstock

We are horsey people. I grew up with ponies and in March I bought myself a horse. I have three riding lessons each week to revive skills rusty from 30 years of studying, working and mothering. My daughter's had a show pony for two years. We hand feed Bell chopped organic apples and massage equine sun-block into the end of her nose. We buy neck covers with silk linings so the rough outer fabric doesn't rub her mane. She's stabled every night and an equine dentist gives her an annual check-up.

I used to laugh at a friend who made her West Highland Terrier wear Doggles, a canine brand of sunglasses, when out for a drive - to protect the pampered pooch from getting wind in its peepers when putting its head out the car window. (My friend's dog used to give its doggie friends Christmas presents, too. I wish I was joking.) My scoffing has come back to haunt me though since I may well have turned into an equine version of those dog enthusiasts.

Sometimes I think we take better care of our horses than we do of ourselves. My suspicion was confirmed last week when my daughter's deputy principal asked her if she could please retire her uniform shirt which had paint splotches embedded in the cuffs and was starting to fray. Embarrassing.

So given my background and this abiding fondness for horses, you'd think I'd have been affronted by the Herald on Sunday article From stable to table. It revealed that some underperforming New Zealand racehorses are transported to an abattoir in Gore where they are "slaughtered with a bolt between the eyes, butchered, frozen and shipped to Belgium or Russia for the restaurant trade". It was described as the racing industry's "tawdry little secret" but I'm not sure I understand what the fuss is all about.

One of the racehorse owners said he had thought these unwanted horses were destined to become pet food rather than be for human consumption - as if the first is somehow more palatable than the second option. The thought of eating horseflesh is clearly unsavoury to many New Zealanders. And that's fine. We're all entitled to choose our food while staying true to our ethical, moral and political beliefs. Provided you're not a starving person, eating is about much more than mere sustenance.

But underpinning our views of exactly what species of animals may be eaten are cultural considerations so ingrained many of us don't realise they exist. In New Zealand we approve of eating the meat of chicken, cows, pigs and sheep. But we frown at the prospect of eating cats, dogs and horses. How can that not be hypocritical? Just because they're unappealing to us doesn't mean the rest of the world shouldn't eat it. Check out what's on offer at kittybeef.com and puppybeef.com.

For the record, I occasionally eat small amounts of the four mainstream meats but I won't try deer, rabbit, eel, kangaroo or anything remotely adventurous. Nothing would entice me to eat cat, dog or horsemeat either but I defend the right of others to eat it if they choose to - presuming, of course it's been a lawful process, the animal is humanely slaughtered and not under threat of extinction.

Until the vegetarians take over the world and ban human consumption of all animal flesh, is it really so bad to discover that Belgians are feasting on the flesh of Kiwi horses? In 2009 a local Tongan man earned condemnation for killing his dog then cooking it in his Mangere umu pit. It's tempting to wonder whether the whole issue of what is proper to eat and what is not is tainted with xenophobic hypocrisy as much as the imperatives of animal welfare.

Are you concerned about the export of New Zealand horsemeat? Are you affronted by Tongan people dining on dogs? And where do you personally draw the line between what meat is okay to eat and what is not? Is horse casserole really a step too far?

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