In León, Spain, last November, we’d just eaten a meal that included a selection of cured meats—jamón ibérico, chorizo, lechazo, morcilla, cecina. On the way back through the old part of the city to our apartment, we passed a shop that advertised many of the meats we’d just eaten. According to the sign, they offered several varieties of cecina, including those made from vaca, cerdo, and caballo.
I turned to my sister.
“Caballo. That means horse, doesn’t it?” I asked, although I already knew the answer. She confirmed that it did.
“And didn’t we just eat cecina?” Yes, we had, in fact, eaten cecina.
“Gabby,” I asked, “did we just eat horse?”
We looked at each other for a moment and then turned our attention back to the narrow, cobbled streets of old León.
I was going to use my “Chicken Casserole” recipe for this issue’s tangent, but I’d already chosen the visual interest, and I can’t quite stomach the idea of posting a recipe alongside a photo of a giant grasshopper.
Other cultures eat grasshoppers and horse meat with relish (not with relish the condiment, necessarily, but the other “relish”). How do different cultures decide which animals are food sources and which are companions, which are pests and which are workers, and which are a combination of those?
Nutritionally, eating one animal rather than another makes little difference. They’re all sources of protein, fat, and micronutrients. Why, then, can eating outside of one’s cultural norms not only seem unappetizing but elicit outright disgust? We had just eaten cecina, and we liked it or not for how it tasted and for the mouthfeel and all of those other characteristics of food as it’s eaten, with little to no thought about what animal it came from. Why should it bother us (okay, me. It only bothered me. My sister, my spouse, and even my children weren’t bothered at all) that we might have eaten horse meat?
If cultural norms are so strong that they can induce such a basic physical response as disgust, what other things that repulse us viscerally are equally based in culture rather than a quality inherent the thing itself?
Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.