Producers of the competitive culinary TV show Top Chef Canada galloped headlong into an internet outcry after news spread about an upcoming episode's focus on horse meat as an ingredient. In the challenge, scheduled to air on May 16th on Food Network Canada, contestants were required to cook traditional French dishes, including both foie gras (also a controversially-obtained food) and horse.
Protesters took to the show's Facebook page after promos for the episode aired, flooding the comments with mentions of Top Chef boycotts, links to anti-horse meat websites and advice on how to contact the show's advertisers. A specifically targeted Facebook group called "Boycott Top Chef – Protect the Horses" was swiftly established as a central location to share resources including educational material and contact information for the show's advertisers and the network's executives.
Horse meat is a staple in the cuisine of countries such as France, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan, China and parts of Canada, and is praised for its leanness and sweetness. In the United States, activists have argued that wild mustangs, which are seen by some as an invasive species, would be a cheap, viable source of food for the hungry.
Protesters, however, argue that not only is eating horse meat a moral taboo on par with the consumption of dogs and cats - it's also insufficiently regulated in Canada. The equipment used to slaughter the animals is designed for cows, rather than horses, which, they argue, renders the process inhumane. Additionally, the horses are often former pets or racers and may have at some point consumed drugs that are not approved for human use.
While horse meat is not an especially predominant ingredient in Canadian cuisine, and the majority of the meat processed in the country is exported internationally, it can be found for sale in supermarkets and at butcher shops.
An Eatocracy poll from earlier this year indicates that a substantial potion of the population expects to see a shift in perception toward horse meat consumption in the United States.