Few animal products are as divisive as horse meat. Britain might have eaten the stuff during both world wars and it may technically be a leaner alternative to beef, but fears over the safety of horse meat (and, y'know, how emotionally crippling Black Beauty is) mean that most British and American diners have little desire to deviate from the standard roster of farmyard animals. The fact that traces of horse spent most of 2013 surreptitiously lurking in European burgers didn't help the meat's image much either.
A university riding club in southern Sweden discovered just how controversial horse meat can be this week after news broke of its decision to host a dinner at restaurant renowned for serving horse meat.
Linköping University's riding club held their annual summer dinner at De Klomp last month, where The Local reports they dined on a "mixture of cured meats, followed by hot roasted horse meat accompanied by warm potato and vegetable salad with chilli mayonnaise." As if this weren't enough horse-based debauchery, some of the equine enthusiasts also "washed it down with a beer called Dead Pony."
The decision to eat an animal you also enjoy feeding sugar lumps to may seem strange, but Sweden has a relaxed attitude when it comes to eating horse. Sales of the meat outperform mutton and lamb combined, and when IKEA's meatballs were found to be contaminated during the European horse meat scandal, the Swedish homeware giant responded by saying it would consider making horse meat balls an official menu item.
Before the fateful dinner, Linköping University's riding club treasurer and vice president Frida Dagsgård wrote a message to members saying: "Pets have received [a] very high status in society. People have too close a relationship to them… only 60 years ago we ate horses and rabbits as [our] staple diet."
Despite a presumably happy evening spent toasting to Dobbin with a Dead Pony and a mouthful of horse burger, a petition protesting De Klomp restaurant appeared online earlier this week.
Featuring on theonlinepetitionsite.com, it called on campaigners to "denounce restaurant De Klomp in Sweden, for killing a horse" and was accompanied by a suitably graphic photo of a dead horse. The petition received over 1000 signatures before being removed from the site on Wednesday.
Responding to the controversy surrounding her uni club dinner, Dagsgård told regional newspaper Corren.se that she had expected "some upset comments" but not an online petition. She explained that the idea of hosting a horse meat dinner "started as a joke" before "we thought that it was something we could actually do."
According to Take Aanstoot, founder of De Klomp, part of the anger directed at the restaurant stems from horse meat-shy diners outside of continental Europe.
"The controversy was mostly people from England and the USA signing the protest created by a Swedish person," he says. "I started to serve horse meat in my restaurant for more than three years ago because of the good quality of the meat and the excellent care horses normally get during their lifetime. Otherwise, the horses go to destruction or long transports to Southeastern Europe for slaughtering."
Consumption of horse meat is championed by many European chefs as an environmentally friendly meat option and way to explore new flavours. Last year, a Belgian food company launched "bag of horse" as a healthy alternative to junk food. Dutch chef, Appie Botter, is fighting changing tastes to keep horse meat alive in his independent butcher's shop.
"Destruction of good meat while everyone is discussing how to lower the environmental impact of its production and the unethical ways a lot of meat is produced (beef, pork) is just plain evil," agrees Aanstoot.
Sweden may be forward-thinking in terms of alternative meat options, but if you get an invite to Linköping University's Dog Walking Society dinner, it might be best to politely decline.