A Third of Americans Are Perfectly Fine With (Poor) People Eating Horsemeat

How do we feel about having horse for dinner? A new poll offers some answers.

Let them eat horse! (Photo: Mixa Co. Ltd./Getty Images)

Mar 7, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

With U.S.-based companies like Burger King and Taco Bell—and very visible foreign brands like Ikea—caught up in the European horsemeat debacle, there’s a fear that horseburgers will eventually hit stateside.

While that consumer concern appears to be unfounded, the supply chain problems on the other side of the Atlantic have led to plenty of domestic horse talk. And now we have some qualitative statistics on Americans' attitudes toward eating horse thanks to a new poll by the marketing research firm YouGov.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Americans, who are imbued with tales of cowboy’s horses and beautiful black horses and jumping horses and princess’ horses and draft horses since infancy, are largely opposed to the killing and eating of their bedtime-tale friends. Only 13 percent of those polled said they would consider eating horse—just six points more than the percentage of people who said they would dine on man’s best friend.

(The caveat that must be mentioned here regards sample size: YouGov only polled 1102 people.)

No, the greater insight the poll offers comes from the answers to another question: Do they agree with the German politicians Hartwig Fisher and Dirk Niebel, who suggested that horse-tainted meat should be distributed to the poor instead of being thrown away? Thirty-two percent of respondents agreed with the German pair’s plans—which didn’t get such a warm response from their colleagues in Berlin. SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles “referred to it as inhuman,” reports the German news website DW. Passing on the unwanted meat would be an “insult to people with low income,” she said.

Thirty percent of the people polled by YouGov said the tainted meat should be tossed.

The idea of throwing away, say, 1,672 pounds of Swedish meatballs may be vexing, especially to a politician, when they’re still perfectly edible—assuming that the horsemeat they were contaminated with isn’t, in turn, contaminated with the drug "bute". And passing that food along to the poor (for free!) may feel like an innovative solution to some. Or many, as this poll suggests. But Nahles' humanity question has to be considered.

I recently heard LaVonna Lewis, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California, speak about food-access issues in Los Angeles. In her talk, she mentioned the expired-food store that a former Trader Joe’s executive is planning to open in Boston. The shop would provide discounted foods that have passed their sell-by date to a poor customer base in a neighborhood underserved by grocery stores. Lewis’ voice almost shook when she spoke of the concept, her sense of outrage over the idea, which she, like other critics, sees as further hardening class and race lines, was palpable.

I can only imagine what her response would be if the store was giving away sustenance that, unlike canned goods or other packaged foods, isn’t socially acceptable to eat. One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but one class deciding that its trash should be another’s dinner brings up all kinds of issues.

Nearly half of those surveyed that made more than $80,000 per year said the meat should be given to the poor. But then again, 27 percent of those making less than $40,000 said it should be free food for the poor as well.