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Eating Horse Is a Taboo in the US Research Paper

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Updated: May 9th, 2021


Different social norms and practices quite often impose a certain responsibility on people, and the neglect of these norms is fraught with at least mass censure. One of such unspoken rules is related to such a commonplace sphere as cooking. In particular, it is the eating of horse meat. It is considered to be taboo in the US and some other English-speaking countries and is regarded as an act of ignorance, disrespect for people, and a lack of morality. For a complete picture of the issue, the history of this norm’s formation in the US, as well as its features from the economic, cultural, and social points of view, will be further considered.


Meat dishes always occupied an important place on the American dining table, and some of them have become real symbols of certain holidays, for example, a turkey for Thanksgiving Day. However, the use of some meat products is not always perceived unambiguously. To be more specific, it is about horse meat, the product that once became the cause of heated disputes between animal advocates and those who had nothing against this type of meat.

Something like a taboo on horse meat consumption has become a feature of economically developed countries. However, a number of other factors play an essential role in such a decision. Some criteria significantly influence people’s opinions regarding the problem, causing the taboo.

Therefore, in addition to the economic criterion, it is necessary to consider the influence of historical prerequisites, as well as cultural and political arguments regarding this issue. As a justification, some scholarly articles will be used. It is supposed that the consumption of horse meat is taboo caused by society’s development and the change of views.

The History of Horse Meat Consumption

It is noteworthy that taboos in food exist in almost every society. They can vary from ancient generic beliefs about the spirits of some animals that should not be offended by religious laws about food (Meyer-Rochow, 2009). Also, as Meyer-Rochow (2009) claims, these rules prohibit the use of certain products or their combinations that are considered to be unhealthy or unclean. Taboos in food also include more informal rules about what animals the society considers the human’s friends and what products people eat. Since horses in history have fallen into both these categories, their status is particularly difficult.

Over the past centuries, these animals have turned into people’s friends from the means of transportation of heavy things. Thus, as Ibrahim and Howarth (2017) note, the descendants of modern Americans arrived in the continent, bringing horses with them and using them as labor. They were also eaten because their meat was considered to be rich in protein and had a characteristic taste. Nevertheless, the noble origin of horses began to be taken into account.

The cost of such animals could be very expensive, for example, because of a rare breed, and eating such meat for food would be wrong. According to Thienes et al. (2017), afterward, horses began to be bred on farms for the purpose of earning, offering tourists and native people horseback riding and training. The new status of the human’s friends that horses gained is contrary to old laws that allowed the meat of these animals to be eaten. Historically, horses were recognized as beings with developed intellect and devotion to people. Therefore, even despite historical preconditions, the eating of horse meat is considered wrong.

Economic Grounds and Justification

Regardless of whether the sale and export of horse meat are beneficial or not, economic factors, in any case, overlap with ethical ones. The fact is that the US is a rather rich country with a developed economy, and the production of horse meat is considered here an activity in which there is no urgent need. Certainly, there are particular motives that encourage manufacturers to supply such meat abroad. Thus, for example, Belaunzaran et al. (2015) remark that the quality of this product largely exceeds other types of meat, and the content of useful substances in its composition increases the potential value of the product. These advantages are reasons why it is so beneficial to export such a type of meat.

It is possible that the primary economic prerequisite for the formation of a taboo on horse meat consumption is precisely in the development of the United States as a financially stable country with many opportunities to produce, purchase, and supply different types of meat. However, according to Meyer-Rochow (2009), “there is a need for further discussions of the economics of food choice,” which means that more freedom could be given to people to choose those products that they prefer (p. 26). As practice shows, mixing horse meat with other types can grow into a scandal if the public finds out about this way of cooking certain products (Sutton, 2017).

Moreover, economic cooperation with some countries can be significantly spoiled if partners learn that the supplier is replacing one meat with another. Such conflicts, as a rule, are economically unprofitable, and in order to avoid misunderstanding, horse meat that can cause controversy is subject to control. Therefore, in addition to America’s financial development, maintaining good relations with partners also plays an essential role.

It is significant to note that the regulation of the production of horse meat has a political basis. Thus, in 2006, the law was signed to ban the production of products in the country from horses (Ibrahim & Howarth, 2017). Nevertheless, later, this rigid restriction was partially abolished. The government decided to produce meat products of this type in neighboring Mexico, thereby protecting themselves from the claims and at the same time continuing to receive financial profit. Thus, from a political point of view, horse meat consumption is not a controversial issue.

Regular journalistic investigations in the mass media lead to periodic consumer indignation caused by the reluctance to consume horse meat. Most of the disturbance, according to Thienes et al. (2017), comes from people who feel that they have been fraudulently involved in the violation of a deep cultural taboo, namely taboo in food.

At the same time, cultural contradictions are caused by the fact that horses have long been considered to be noble animals that have occupied a dense place near the human and cannot be regarded from the point of view of the food product. Americans use these animals in sports, for example, in races or polo, they breed them for exhibitions and demonstrations and also keep them as pets. It is difficult to perceive the horse as a creature that is fit for food since it is usually associated with friendship and kindness.

This approach can certainly be refuted by arguments in favor of other animals, for example, pigs or cows. Nevertheless, as it is known, these animals are also considered to be unacceptable for eating in some cultures. Religious beliefs do not allow Muslims and Jews to eat pork, and in Hinduism, it is forbidden to consider beef as a product (Meyer-Rochow, 2009). Therefore, the values ​​advocated by Americans are more likely to be affected by the aspect of morality.

Social System and Classes

Eating horse meat and banning it can also have a rationale from the point of view of dividing society into classes. The protein that is contained in this product has many useful properties. According to Belaunzaran et al. (2015), the meat itself is nutritious and rich in various healthy substances; it is low-fat and has a specific taste. Therefore, many privileged strata of the society, wishing variety at the dinner table, prefer to eat horse meat. Nevertheless, people with small incomes cannot always afford to buy such meat products, which is caused not only by cultural beliefs but also by insufficiently high incomes.

The taboo on eating horse meat can be caused by social discontent and the conviction of the prevailing number of Americans that a modern civilized citizen should not eat an intelligent animal. The development of the agricultural sector has made it possible to provide the population with a variety of products, including meat of various types. Social development has predetermined the habits of eating and people’s views concerning what is considered taboo and what is acceptable. As Sutton (2017) remarks, discontent about certain norms is a typical feature of any generation. It so happened that at this stage of development, it is considered that the use of horse meat for food is unacceptable, and it is a fact that probably should be accepted.

Personal Perspective

From a moral point of view, the taboo on eating horse meat should certainly be preserved. The United States is a country with a sufficiently developed economy, and the use of such intelligent animals for food is a relic of the past and a barbaric attitude to the world. The sphere of agriculture has enough resources to successfully develop and supply different types of meat products to the domestic market. The neglect of moral principles will become a symbol of a return to the past and even perhaps the degradation of society. Therefore, the taboo on eating horse meat should be preserved in order to avoid the complete loss of human values ​​and disregard for the norms of ethics, mercy, and the love of animals.

Nevertheless, when considering this issue, not from a moral but a financial and economic point of view, some reevaluation can occur. According to Meyer-Rochow (2009), the fact is that in the domestic market, the demand for horse meat is not too great because of the beliefs of many people. However, there are many countries that are ready to acquire such meat since they do not have any moral taboos in this regard.

Accordingly, the export of products abroad will make it possible to replenish the budget and establish trade relations with partners. That is probably why the US government decided to place several factories for the production of horse meat near the country’s border and to supply products to those who are interested in it. Such an approach, perhaps, contradicts the civic position, but it is logical from the point of view of an economic perspective.


Thus, historical, economic, cultural, and social factors largely determine the taboo on eating horse meat in contemporary American society. A purposeful opposition to the production of food made of this type of meat has many justifications, and the most significant of them are financial and cultural. Since the US is a highly developed country with established norms of social morality, eating horses is considered a fact that violates the aspects of a civilized society.


Belaunzaran, X., Bessa, R. J., Lavín, P., Mantecón, A. R., Kramer, J. K., & Aldai, N. (2015). Horse-meat for human consumption – Current research and future opportunities. Meat Science, 108, 74-81.

Ibrahim, Y., & Howarth, A. (2017). Contamination, deception and ‘othering’: The media framing of the horsemeat scandal. Social Identities, 23(2), 212-231.

Meyer-Rochow, V. B. (2009). Food taboos: Their origins and purposes. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 5(1), 18-27.

Sutton, D. (2017). Comment: Reflections on meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vampires. Ethnos, 82(2), 298-307.

Thienes, C. P., Masiri, J., Benoit, L. A., Barrios-Lopez, B., Samuel, S. A., Cox, D. P.,… Samadpour, M. (2017). Quantitative detection of horse contamination in cooked meat products by ELISA. Journal of AOAC International, 101, 1-7.

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