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Animal rights activists and just generally sensitive folk of various stripes are closely watching MoMA PS1, the outpost of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art in Long Island City, Queens — and specifically watching its restaurant, M. Wells Dinette. It seems that once the place is up and running (any day now), M. Wells chef Hugue Dufour is planning on serving horsemeat tartare, and possibly horsemeat in other forms. Horse lovers everywhere are bridling at the thought.
Horsemeat is popular protein in many parts of the world. I first ate it, stewed, in Brussels, and the Belgians in general are great fans of this lean, slightly sweet variety of animal flesh. (The original pommes frites, created in Belgium, not France, were fried in horsemeat fat.) I've also eaten it in tartare form in Siena, as pasta sauce in Verona, and as steak cooked on a backyard grill in a Parisian suburb. (Though they're dying out now, French cities used to be full of specialty horsemeat butchers, called chevalines, in which were sold virtually every cut of meat you can imagine, all from equine sources.) I don't see anything wrong with it. In fact, I'm not sure I would have known that it wasn't beef if I hadn't been told. Horses are cute? So are those big, gentle, sad-eyed beasts we call cows. Horses are noble? So are deer, and that doesn't stop us from eating venison (er, does it?) — and anyway, that's anthropomorphism.
Canadians eat horsemeat without much trouble, in any case, and Dufour of course hails from Montreal (where he cooked at the noted foie-gras-and-pork palace Au Pied de Cochon); last summer, at the Great GoogaMooga Festival in Brooklyn, Dufour served grilled cheese sandwiches with foie gras and horsemeat bologna. So why shouldn't he now offer horsemeat in another of the five boroughs?
Is it legal? Yes, and it always has been. Some people will tell you that eating horsemeat was banned in America some years back. Not so. What happened was that in 2006, Congress passed legislation prohibiting the use of federal funds to inspect horses raised for food, which had the effect of closing down the domestic horse butchery industry. This year, a new agricultural act restored those funds, so the industry might revive. No matter, though, as it has continued in Mexico and Canada all along, and there's no prohibition against American chefs importing horsemeat from those countries.
If M. Wells goes ahead with its plans and its customers discover that they actually like horsemeat — it might help if they find out that it has almost 20 times the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids found in beef — it might even become the new trendy ingredient. All over America we might soon be eating a new kind of mane course.
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