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October 21, 2019

During World War II, Lots of Americans Ate Horse

Eating a horse was considered less disturbing during the Second World War when beef was rationed. As rationing made it more difficult for families to find beef, American butchers across the country sold horse meat, and consumers literally ate it up.

Republican leaders, eager to use the new equine diet to embarrass President Truman, took to derogatively calling him “Horsemeat Harry.” As this 1942 Pittsburgh Press article suggests, Philadelphians were denied the pleasure of eating horse due to a state law. At roughly half the cost of beef, horse was served as a protein supplement until well after the war in some places, though. Time reported that during the inflationary years of the early 1970s, a butcher shop in Connecticut was wholesaling about 6,000 pounds of horse meat every day.

Horse meat is not only high in protein, but a good cut has about half the fat, less cholesterol and twice as much iron and Vitamin B as beef. It also contains fewer calories, and a significantly higher omega-3 fatty acid concentration (that’s the good fat)—with 360 mg per 100 grams serving, compared to just 21 mg in a beef steak.

Slaughtering horses for human consumption was illegal until 2011, when President Obama signed a bill lifting a five-year ban that had kept federal inspectors out of slaughterhouses. According to David Duquette, president of the United Horsemen, which lobbied for lifting the prohibition, prior to the ban, meat (most all of it for export) made up 80 percent of the more than $100 billion a year horse-processing industry.

Until 2007, only three horse meat slaughterhouses still existed in the United States for export to foreign markets, but they were closed by court orders resulting from the upholding of aforementioned Illinois and Texas statutes banning horse slaughter and the sale of horse meat.

Butchers cutting up horses for use as meat, 1943.

Butchers cutting up horses for use as meat, 1943.

Butcher carving hunk of horse meat, 1943.

Horses standing in corral prior to slaughter, 1943.

Photograph depicting the sale and consumption of horse meat during WWII.

Signs advertising horse meat (“NOT RATIONED”) outside a Seattle butcher shop sometime during WWII.

This butcher shop at 1417 Gratiot in the 1940s - when meat was rationed during World War II - was the first horse meat market in Detroit.


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