Over at The Telegraph, London Mayor Boris Johnson notes that they love horse meat in France, so why do the Brits (and the Americans, I would add) turn up their noses?
Here are two nations, with roughly the same level of civilisation, with a densely interwoven history, a cognate language – but who have entered the internet age with radically different ideas about eating humanity’s eternal helpmeet. In fact, the further you whizz around the world, the more unusual the British scruple seems to be. From Mexico to Kazakhstan, you find people eating horse flesh – and the Chinese manage to chomp through an astonishing 1.7 million gee-gees every year.
And, of course, the answer is simply "taboo". As I have noted in the past,
Some people think cows are sacred and pigs are filthy and never to be eaten.But, Boris Johnson quite correctly points out that taboos change.
No one thinks twice about eating a bit of mutton or a nice rabbit, but most recoil at a bit of dog.
I have eaten snake (quite good) but shudder at eating eel, though everyone tells me it is excellent, especially if smoked.
Squirrel and groundhog? No problem. Possum? Not on a bet.
In every culture, one man's rat is another man's ratatouille.
Smoking is out, and will never come back in. I have been reading Herzog, the 1964 novel by the Nobel prizewinner Saul Bellow, and was struck by the way he refers to “negroes” – a term that would almost certainly preclude him from being read aloud on Radio 4 today.
Or take the issue of gay marriage. If the polls are correct, most people just can’t understand what all the fuss is about, because the taboo on homosexuality has gone – and seems to have been transmuted into a much more virulent taboo against any kind of underage sex. With assumptions changing so fast, it is no wonder that some people feel angry and bewildered. They aren’t bigots; they’ve just been marooned by the fluctuating tides of taboo.
So where will it all end? Johnson does not claim to know, but he wonders:
If the British and the Americans already regard the eating of dogs, cats and horses as haram, how long before all animals are objects of dietary taboo? In 100 years’ time, you wager, the British public will be paying for memorials for the legions of animals that have died to feed them, and the British prime minister will issue an apology to all oxen that have provided the roast beef of old England.
Right. But don't hold your breath, eh? Boris Johnson himself is all for urban fox control. Pest control, he rightly notes, is pest control, and is generally practiced the world over.