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On Horses and Meat

Friday, 22 February, 2013 - 1:00 pm

A colleague of mine penned this article about the recent horsemeat scandal in the UK. I thought it was worthy of sharing.

Enjoy!

by Rabbi Michoel Green, Chabad of Westborough, MA 

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

But what's in your hamburger? Or should I say, "horse-burger?"

No, I'm not horsing around. Google "UK horsemeat scandal" for a plethora of
recent news items.

Horsemeat has somehow entered the European food supply chain and has been
fraudulently labeled as beef. From the British Isles to Poland, Spain to
Scandinavia, Europe is reeling from shock and disgust over widespread
equine consumption. Horsemeat has been found in a variety of food products,
including lasagna and TV dinners. In fact, many products sold in
supermarkets and restaurants throughout Europe claiming to be 100% cowmeat
-- such as Angus hamburgers and meatballs -- were in fact entirely horse.

Where's the beef, you ask? That's a good question. No one's sure what
happened to it, and how it got replaced with horsemeat. Interestingly, lots
of pork was found illegally marked as beef too, but for some strange
reason, no outcry was heard. Europeans must have a soft spot for swine.
(Donkey meat has allegedly been found too, and the list may be growing.)

And now, the widening scandal is spreading to Asia and the Wild Middle
East. Will it soon be "Giddeyup Morsi?"

It's not just about mislabeling and deceiving consumers. It's also a public
health concern. Apparently, a drug called phenylbutazone, also known as
"bute," has been found in numerous horses slaughtered in the UK, and is
thought to have entered to human food chain. Used as an anti-inflammatory
painkiller for sporting horses, bute has been banned for animals intended
for eventual human consumption, as it is may be harmful in large
concentrations.

Do you think your meat is safer here in the US? I remember back in the
seventies when a variety of non-bovine meat was allegedly found in "beef"
dishes in fastfood chains across the US. Just last year, US consumers awoke
to news reports of so-called "pink slime" in our food chain, labeled as
"beef." Although pink slime, officially known as "lean finely textured
beef," does come from cow, it does not necessarily come from muscle tissue,
what one would normally call "meat," but from cartilage, connective tissue
and sinew. Sounds kind of slimy to me.

As far as the current horsemeat scare is concerned, no horsey surprises
have been found in the US food supply just yet, but that might just be
because there are no horse abattoirs in the US. Americans aren't
particularly fond of horses for eating, but just for riding, according to a
recent "Gallop" poll (just kidding).

But all horse jokes aside, how can you be sure what you're eating, anyway?
Can you trust the USDA (or what ever the British version is) to ensure that
you're actually getting what you think you're buying? Well, some folks
think that government quality control is infallible, but I say they're
backing the wrong horse. And thanks to relying on Euro-govt "quality
control," the wrong horse has ended up on their very own dinner plates.

Society has always told us not to put the proverbial cart before the horse.
But for crying out loud, don't put the horse into your shopping cart.

I know for some, fast food and frozen dinners are an excuse to "eat like a
horse." But for goodness steak, don't eat the horse!!

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to beat a dead horse or anything. Nor am I
anti-government. I certinaly appreciate the USDA's efforts to keep us safe,
and far be it from me to look the gift horse in the mouth. But all I'm
saying is, we cannot rely on government agencies alone to certify what we
put into our bellies. Trusting government to keep us healthy might just be
a modern Trojan Horse. And health isn't just bodily. There's spiritual
health too. If you're Jewish, to ensure maximal spiritual and bodily
health, there's only one way to go: kosher.

Several years ago, I had a discussion with a friend about why to only buy
strictly kosher meat. After explaining the criteria of kosher animals, the
rules of *shechita* (ritual slaughter) and koshering process, and the
spiritual benefit of keeping kosher, I also explained that kosher meat
requires constant supervision of a *mashgiach *(a reliable, Torah-observant
Jewish individual who serves as kosher supervisor) until it is packaged,
sealed and labeled. We then discussed other foods like dairy and fish that
require *hashgacha t'midit*, constant supervision, in order for the
consumer to be ensured that they are indeed kosher.

My friend was sceptical. "What are the chances of pig or horse milk
entering the human food supply?" he scoffed.

Quite frankly, after last week's news, nothing would surprise me.

From a kosher perspective, however, no one should be alarmed about the
horsemeat scandal. You see, non-kosher beef is every bit as *treif *(unkosher)
as horse, ham or donkey.

If you buy kosher, the *hechsher* (Rabbinic seal of approval) vouches for
the authenticity and kashrut of the beef you're buying. And if you don't
buy kosher, well, then you may just as well be eating horsemeat anyway,
from a kosher perspective, at least. So quit beefing about it.

We have a giant supermarket here in Northborough that claims to sells
kosher meat in its deli. The only problem is that there is no kosher
butcher, and the kosher meat is removed from its original packaging, cut up
and put on display. The supermarket's butcher does have seperate knives and
cutting boards that he claims only to use for the kosher products. But
alas, according to the strict laws of kashrut, due to its lack of *
hashgacha *supervision, the so-called "kosher" deli meat is 100% *NOT *
kosher.

I've discussed this with numerous local Jews. Many people have argued that
while it may not be authentically kosher, it's (sic) "close enough for me."

Well, to this I say: "close" only counts in horseshoes.

Bottom line: if you really want to avoid horse for your main course, you
just gotta just adhere to a higher source -- the Torah, perforce.

It's time to beef up our kosher observance, folks.

Ok, some of you might be thinking: "Hey come on, rabbi! Get off your high
horse. You can buy kosher meat galore in Jewishly-saturated neighborhoods
like Brookline or Newton, but we live out here in horse country. No kosher
butcher here for of miles."

To you I say, whoa! Hold your horses. How do you know there's nothing
kosher nearby? Have you checked in your local supermarkets? You may be
pleasantly surprised. If they don't stock it, maybe if you apply pressure,
they might agree to carry it. I have recently found kosher poultry and beef
in the most unlikely of places, like Walmart, Trader Joes and Stop 'n Shop.

If there's a will, there's a way. Throughout our long history, Jews have
managed to keep kosher in the most remote and exotic of locations, from the
Wild West to the Far East, in the best of times and the worst of times.
Certainly in twenty-first century suburban USA with an all-time high
percentage of food items sold in average supermarkets being kosher, one can
put forth the effort and manage to keep kosher.

No one ever said being Jewish is easy. So stop kvetching and experience the
joys of kosher living!

It doesn't have to be "all or nothing." One can begin keeping kosher
observances gradually, "yiddle by yiddle," as they say.

A Jewish family struggling to find their comfort level in Jewish observance
once confided to their rabbi: "We keep a strictly kosher kitchen, but we
sometimes eat out..."

Replied the rabbi: "Then you have kosher pots and a *treife boich!" *(an
un-kosher belly).

When told the same comment by a congregant, Rabbi H. Fogelman of Worcester,
MA, once responded : "Then I guess you're dishes will go to heaven."

Sigh. I guess you can lead a horse to the water...

But in all seriousness, Jewish observance doesn't have to be 100% or zero.
It's not just "Yea or Neigh."

Take baby steps. Start by cutting pork, seafood, and shall I say,
horsemeat. Then begin to seperate between dairy and meat. Then eliminate *
treife *chickens and beef altogether. In short time, you'll be champing at
the bit to "go kosher" entirely.

Don't feel you're too set in your ways to make a change. In Judaism, it's
never too late to change horses midstream.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, kosher meat sales
are surging in the UK (according to an
article<http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/02/19/kosher-meat-sales-surge-in-uk-in-wake-of-horse-meat-scandal/>
on
Algemeiner.com I read today). Here in the US, kosher consumption has been
on the rise for years. According to a recent statistic I read, a whopping
85% percent of kosher consumers in the US aren't even Jewish! Everyone's
catching on.

So whether you're pedestrian or quedestrian or equestrian, trot over to
your local kosher food store and buy Kosher.

If you're a novice, gallop over to a reliable website to learn the rules of
kosher, like this
one<http://www.chabadhebrewschool.us/generic_cdo/aid/113424/jewish/Kosher.htm>

Better yet, visit your local rabbi for kosher instruction. It's always
better to hear it straight from the horse's -- I mean rabbi's -- mouth.

And while you're at it, why not prance over to shul and attend a crash
course on the laws of kosher (but please don't crash on the way, specially
if you're horseback).

As for me, I'll continue to whinny until I'm hoarse, "Keep Kosher!"

PS: all this horse talk reminds us to get ready for the two upcoming Jewish
holidays: Purim and Passover. Purim -- Mordechai led on king's royal
stallion. Passover -- don't forget the horseradish.

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