So this past weekend was the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby.
I recently watched the movie Seabiscuit, about the champion thoroughbred horse of the same name. Seabiscuit was an inspiration for Americans during the great depression because he was seen to be an awkward and unlikely competitor, and at least in the movie, is portrayed as down on his luck until someone took a chance on him. This horse represented for Americans the chance to overcome obstacles and to achieve the American dream. The 2001 bestseller and 2003 Oscar nominated film illustrate that this horse, his story, and the stories of horses more generally are fascinating and endearing to the American public.
I grew up with a few horses, and know and admire their majesty, beauty and intelligence. I also grew up aware of the horse farms we would pass on this highways of Alberta, near Lethbridge. The thought that the same horses we not only admire, but also invest so much money and time into, could also be seen and used for food and butchered in the same ways as cattle and pigs never failed to shake me emotionally.
Slaughterhorses are not just horses bred for meat and dogfood, but as the video below illustrates, the thoroughbred race horses like Seabiscuit as well as ageing family horses are sold into the meat industry on a regular basis, Kentucky derby winners included.
The slaughtering of horses for meat in countries like Japan and Mexico is relatively unknown in the US and Canada, and people tend to be horrified at the thought, partially I think, because of the great esteem and admiration we hold for these animals. This fact, however, in my opinion only further demonstrates the problem of differentiating between the animals we choose to eat and abuse and the animals we chose to love and make part of our families.
Films like Seabiscuit humanize and personalize the stories of animals – in fact, giving animals names in general accomplishes this – and forces us to see a connection between beings and food, a connection we have failed to establish with chickens, cows, and pigs.
The PETA video below looks at the horse-meat industry in Japan and the sale of race horses for the purposes of human consumption and the production of pet foods.
May 20, 1010 Update: Another case, bringing attention to the cruelty of race horses, is the sentencing of Ernie Paragallo, a former Wall Street Exec accused of starving over 150 horses in his care. The New York Times reported two days ago that Paragallo has been sentenced to two years in prison and a $33000.00 fine, as well as restitution paid to animal rights groups. The judge in the case, Judge George J. Pulver Jr’s condemnation of Paragallo correctly puts this problem in moral terms:
“Your moral compass is out of kilter and points you in improper directions,” Pulver told Paragallo at his sentencing. “Your sense of integrity, your code of conduct, your perception of right and wrong was perhaps formed by your days on either mean streets or Wall Street.”