Cure, a well-regarded Pittsburgh restaurant along the Allegheny River, found itself on the brunt end of the internet police stick last month. It happened after a one-night-only collaboration dinner with several Canadian chefs in which Cure served a food almost never seen at American restaurants today: horse meat.
The dish was not intended to attract publicity—Cure is a five-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Award, and the dish was presented as tartare (with cured egg yolk and black garlic aioli), a popular preparation in Western dining cultures where horse meat is served. But news of the menu item quickly spread, and critics flooded Cure’s Facebook page expressing outrage, many decrying the immorality of eating a beloved domesticated pet, others noting the danger of consuming an animal with a reputation for being administered growth- and performance-enhancing drugs. (The post also had its share of supporters as well, arguing culinary libertarianism.)
No animal has been anthropomorphized more in popular culture than the horse, portrayed as man’s noble companion through centuries of literature and decades of television and film. Horses are sports heroes (The Black Stallion, Seabiscuit), noble warriors (War Horse), fodder for comedy (Mister Ed); are made to feel human emotions (The Horse Whisperer, Black Beauty); and can cure a broken heart (“Tennessee Stud“ by Jimmy Driftwood). The horse has crossed the threshold of an animal that’s become more than an animal, and therefore Americans don’t see a horse and think “food.” But unlike the dog, another beloved human companion that Americans don’t eat, horse is a ubiquitous meat in many parts of the world.
While eating horse meat in America is not illegal, finding a purveyor that sells it is all but impossible. American chefs who want to serve horse might resort to sneaking the meat across borders (representatives at Cure declined to comment for this…