Eat To Live: Don't eat our pets!

By JULIA WATSON, UPI Food Writer  |  Sept. 13, 2006 at 9:57 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Take a brief glance at recent food-related action by our legislators and it would seem we're suddenly more worried about animals than people.

On Aug. 22, a ban on the sale and distribution of foie gras, the excessively fattened liver of ducks and geese, went into effect in Chicago.

Then Assemblywoman Joan Voss introduced legislation in New Jersey to prevent the force-feeding of ducks and geese for foie gras production in that state.

Now the Humane Society of the United States has lodged legal complaints against the top United States foie gras producer, Hudson Valley Farm, which could put the New York State company out of business. (First in the field protecting ducks and geese was the State of California, which in 2004 passed a law banning foie gras production from 2012.)

And last week, the House voted 263 to 146 to ban the slaughter of horses for meat.

Sentimentality is guiding our food choices. We're anthropomorphizing the food chain.

It may be that it's cruel to shove a feeding tube down the neck of our feathered friends -- though artisan foie gras producers will assure you that their feeding practices are careful and ducks and geese have tough esophaguses that don't have reflex gag actions like humans.

The idea of eating Silver or any of his four-legged companions is clearly offensive to a Marlboro-Man, pioneer-culture sense of self and history.

But whatever your revulsion at the idea of eating products from animals normally regarded as pets or story-book characters, we're talking about niche market foods.

According to a 2004 report by the Shepstone Management Company, a planning and research consultancy, the American foie gras industry produces a mere $17.5 million in U.S. annual sales.

And 90,000 horses were slaughtered last year, mostly for export.

In Europe, where the tender and sweetish meat is popular, eating horsemeat resolves the question of what to do with a horse once it has reached the end of its natural life. For horses, unlike cattle, are not raised in order to supply the food chain.

That's a concern of former Texas Rep. Charles Stenholm, representing more than 200 organizations opposed to the bill, many of them agricultural groups, and of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. They both pointed out the legislation would close the slaughterhouses without giving consideration to the fate of the 90,000 unwanted horses that otherwise would have been slaughtered.

Across France their meat is sold in specialized Boucheries Chevalines and sometimes in supermarkets.

In Italy it appears as an equine version of the dried meat Bresaola and in certain regional stews. It's served raw as Carpaccio or cooked as a rare steak. Several traditional salamis and Spanish chorizos include it among their ingredients.

Low in fat, it's a healthier meat than most; 3½ ounces contains 175 calories, 28 grams of protein, 6 grams fat and 68 milligrams cholesterol. The same amount of lean beef contains 10 grams total fat, 4.5 saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol.

But if the Humane Society and the nation's legislators really wanted to make a difference to animal welfare, why aren't they going after the mainstream animal production industry that supplies not the luxury foods bought by the few but the tons of common meats the nation eats daily?

Why doesn't it take on the poultry industry where battery-farmed chickens, standing in their own excrement, are kept so tightly packed in crates that their beaks are clipped to prevent them from attacking their neighbors? Why isn't it tackling conditions in the beef industry where veal calves spend their 26-week-short lives in boxes too small for them to turn around in so that meat-toughening muscle development is restricted?

How about focusing on the fate of pigs who live their 6-month lives on concrete floors in bare pens in the dark?

Is it perhaps because the industrial food business has more lobbyists and money behind it to protect its interests than have the three U.S. slaughterhouses dealing in horses and the few foie gras producers?

If you object to these points, consider instead the lawmakers. With problems to face like obesity -- not to mention gas emissions and global warming, poor education for the under-privileged, health insurance and immigration reform -- why are they spending time on animals not people?

No one has a salad for a pet. So here is a good end-of-summer one to serve four as a main course meal.

--Cut each of the following into 2-inch cubes, roll in enough olive oil to coat, then roast in a 400F oven till everything has softened and begun to caramelize a little: 4 plum tomatoes cut lengthwise in 2, ½ one small acorn squash, peeled, 2 small zucchini, cut lengthways in 2 then in 3 chunks across, 1 small peeled red onion, cut into 1/8th inch rings, and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

--Put all into a bowl and let cool to tepid before dressing with a seasoning of rock salt and a good grind of black pepper, some torn-up basil leaves, and handful of arugula, 2 ounces of crumbled mild feta cheese, and 1 tablespoon olive oil followed by 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

--Toss well and serve warm.

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