These horse-meat burgers might actually be the most ethical meat you can eat.
My dad used to be a chef and had his own vegan restaurant in Breda (a city in the Netherlands). Back then, a girl named Babbe Hengeveld used to work in the kitchen. That girl is now a young woman and a progressive chef in her own restaurant called Food Guerilla. I went to see her with my father in the Stek area in Breda—a creative breeding ground for conscious citizens and radical ex-hippie squatters—to eat a "My Little Pony burger." That's a burger made from aging ponies from amusement park Slagharen.
Although this dish might make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up if you love horses, it is actually one of the most sensible things to do with this meat. Horsemeat is tasty and healthy, and it's an awful sin to throw it away.
The burgers come from the Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier (the unwanted animal kitchen). According to the artist duo that runs it, humans use animals as disposable items, like the ponies from Slagharen. If the animals are too old, they are of no use. They are doomed to be slaughtered because they are no longer able to walk around all day with children bouncing on their backs. The Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier makes sure that the meat goes to a horse butcher who uses the meat for great burgers.
Burgers made of old horse meat? If you don't like the word old, just ignore it. Burgers are often made of meat from older animals since it is very suitable, my father says. The Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier ensures that the meat comes from an entrepreneur who is not afraid to fight against waste.
When the burger is served, I catch myself feeling a bit nauseous from the idea of eating old horse meat. I'm not a meat eater, but this is a damn good burger, I tell them, slightly surprising myself.
"You used to eat horse meat very often" says my father. "You only didn't know because you didn't ask about it." "Thanks Dad!" When I ask him about his motive for feeding me ponies without letting me know, he says "I prefer horse meat over beef, since it has more flavour—a wild flavour."
Hengeveld is a young mother. She has lively eyes, and while I feel comfortable with her right away, I think she also has a harder side. She was asked by the city of Breda to do something in the Stek area. Hengeveld tells me that, although she very much supports the idea of burgers made of horse meat, she is still in doubt whether to keep them on the menu. "They don't sell well because people do feel bad about the idea of eating horse," she says. "I just need to throw away the meat sometimes. For people to understand, you really have to explain to them clearly about the unwanted ponies and horse meat. When I'm cooking in the kitchen, I don't always have time for this."
The menu always changes since the restaurant is dependent on food that would normally go to waste. The daily specials vary depending on what is being delivered that day. She is not a horse girl herself, hence doesn't care whether she prepares a burger made from horse meat or beef. According to her, we can eat any animal as long as we don't see them as pets. I look at the dog who guards the restaurant and ask, "Would you eat your dog?" She looks at me with amusement. "No. I consider my dog as a family member, like horse girls do with their own horse." She continues: "But dogs can be eaten, you know." "So you would eat dogs that come from a shelter that are going to be killed anyway?" I ask her. "Yes. Exactly," she says.
Hengeveld tells me she has always been dedicated to preventing waste, but that she sees things are changing over the last few years. Large companies are even interested in her method. "Not for the good reasons though," she says, laughing. "For businesses, it's just a matter of improving their image." But that doesn't bother her very much. "If the goal is reached, the underlying reason doesn't matter that much."
I think Hengeveld is refreshingly realistic for an idealist. And while I might be a bit of a hypocrite, I do have to confess that I did really enjoy my horse-meat burger.