When I did more public speaking than I do today, I sometimes would open with the story of the pig with the wooden leg.
The topic was calculated to be just bizarre enough to get the audience’s attention.
It was my way of saying, “Listen up, and I promise I won’t put you to sleep.”
State Sen. Kathy Marchione and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco — she elected on an anti-gay marriage platform last fall and he perhaps best known as champion of tortured cats as described in his 1999 “Buster’s Law” — joined with like-minded interests at a press briefing last week. Together, they endorsed tougher sanctions on horse slaughtering for human consumption and the trucking of the animals across this country to Mexico and other places where you can eat Trigger with impunity.
They use Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, as an example of noble horseflesh that shouldn’t be so ignominiously dispatched because, among reasons, the champ was foaled in Saratoga Springs where there have been thoroughbred races for 150 years.
The cause always brings a smile to my lips because it seems so silly.
We can’t get a consensus on gun background checks but we think it’s important to protect people from horsemeat.
I suppose somewhere there are horse rustlers hiding in the woods and smacking their lips as they wait for that delicious stray pony to wander away from the herd and become tomorrow’s barbecue. But it seems implausible and, even if it happened, who cares?
Why not bar pigs and chickens from human consumption? For that matter, why are we eating or not eating any animals? Changes in public attitude are cited as a reason for new legislation. A horse meat plant was developed in New Mexico recently but is idle because federal money for slaughterhouse inspections was left out of the Obama budget. Meanwhile, the governor of Oklahoma just signed a law allowing horses to be butchered (but not eaten) there.
I know the idea of chewing on a champion of the Kentucky Derby is horrific compared to, say, eating Wilbur of “Charlotte’s Web.” I don’t know anyone who would compare a pork chop to a fetlock. So protecting horseflesh from human consumption is just the right thing to do or at least might be perceived as such by a sentimental electorate?
Whenever I hear of one of these publicity stunts — and how else can you view them? — I wonder how many people besides me recognize them as calculated to appeal to our notion of such equine icons as “Black Beauty” and “Flicka” but really of no social significance whatever.
Sometimes I fantasize about who would be eating horses and, of course, the politicians involved creep into my subconscious. I picture fat cats chewing on a big old horse drumstick, which of course is also silly. (Unless we’re talking Pegasus, there probably is no drumstick.)
But a horse drumstick isn’t a lot sillier than the notion we shouldn’t eat horse meat or “beef” as it’s known in Europe but it’s all right to eat meat from our domestic stock (pigs, chickens, lambs). The controversy might be viewed as a part of the larger question of whether we should be eating meat at all.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contends the only ethical meat to eat is accidental roadkill or fish washed up on the shore.
Those who oppose eating horse flesh specifically say that the butchering of horses — sometimes by slitting their throats — is cruel. I assume they mean compared to the hot bolt to the brain that we reserve for cattle.
So what’s with the horse taboo? Some of our reluctance is lost in antiquity, ancient shibboleths and religious superstition. In some parts of the world eating horse flesh is viewed as a stigma — it’s something poor people do.
But it also saved many soldiers from starvation in World War I.
As for religion, in some cultures, horse worship was and is practiced, though the Roman Catholic Church didn’t like the idea. Practically, however, there really seemed to be little reason not to eat horse meat, though one of those nowadays might be injections at the race track that could make the meat dangerous to humans. Outside the United States, horse meat is popular. In 2005, the eight principal horse-meat-eating countries, led by China, consumed more than 800 million tons.
“Cavallo” — as horse meat is also known — can be prepared in much the same ways as beef, butchering in an abattoir setting to produce horseburgers, roasts, steaks and chops.
Now, please don’t get the idea that I dislike horses. I grew up with them, rode them frequently in my youth and got kicked by an old nag named Sally often enough. To my knowledge, I’ve never eaten horsemeat, but that’s probably simply lack of opportunity.
As for the pig with the wooden leg, here’s the story: An amateur photographer, out for a ride in the country, pulls his car over to the side of the road near a pasture where he has spied a pig with a prosthetic leg. He takes several photos before the farmer who owns the place emerges from a nearby barn.
“I hope you don’t mind my photographing your pig,” he tells the farmer, “but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a pig with a wooden leg.”
The farmer tells him to take all the photos he wishes, that he is gazing at a truly remarkable animal. “That pig,” he says, “saved my life.” Moreover, he says, it saved the lives of his whole family. He explains that the pig knocked down the door and roused the family so they could escape from a smoky fire in their home in the middle of the night.
“That’s incredible,” says the visitor. “What a heroic animal. And with a wooden leg!”
“Well, I agree he’s a heroic animal,” said the farmer. “But just so you know he had all four legs when he saved us. It’s just that a pig like that, a pig that saves your life and that of your family. … You wouldn’t eat a pig like that.
“Not all at once.”