All sentient beings
love their own selves
and their own kind,
even if not loved by others.
There is this expression, ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.’ Its origin probably arose from it being a social taboo in many cultures, where horses are usually appreciated for their beauty and strength, especially as a means of transport for riders and carriages. Therefore, to eat a horse would be strange, as if a last resort and an extreme measure, perhaps due to being thoroughly lost in the wild with nothing to consume but the horse. This is when food is deemed more important than travelling. It could also refer to being so hungry that an animal as big as a horse could be eaten, which is how the expression is used today.
As the horse is often seen as a regal and noble animal, to actually eat a horse is unimaginable to many. Yet, this unimaginable thing is happening as we speak, not in less developed and hungry regions but modern society. Countries in Europe (including UK) and Asia (Hong Kong) are now affected by the discovery of horse meat being mixed with cow meat and passed off as the latter by unscrupulous suppliers. Although some say there is no health risk for humans (at first; though recent news say it might be problematic due to drug use), such deceptive trade poses danger for more horses!
These victimised horses might be strays in the wild, forcibly ‘retired’ race horses (who were once enslaved for competition) or simply bred for meat. There is a Chinese saying – ‘to be a cow and be a horse’ (做牛做马), which means ‘to undergo great toil and hardship like that of cows and horses’. Such is the plight of all lifelong exploited animals, whom, despite slave-labouring with their strength (as beasts of burden) and being forced to give produce (like milk), they still have no happy endings, by getting slaughtered for meat, skin (leather) and bones (gelatine and glue) instead.
Horse meat was prohibited by the Buddha for consumption by random alms-seeking monastics (who incidentally do not actively add to the cycle of supply and demand for meat from killing) as eating horses possibly owned by royalty could lead to trouble. Many simply see it as disgusting today, though it is incredible bad faith to imagine one animal to be delicious while another is disgusting, when the reality check is that it is equally disgusting to all animals to be imagined delicious. If we cannot differentiate the taste of one meat from another, isn’t it safer for us and better for the animals to eat cruelty-free mock meats instead?
More intriguing than deceit in the meat trade is the speciesism among meat consumers – the valuing of one animal over another, as if more cows than horses should die to satisfy humans who think eating beef is justified and somehow more ‘right’, despite the suffering from exploitation and slaughter being similar. In a country like India, however, cows are considered sacred by many. However, just when cows might seem slightly better off, this is another sign of speciesism – towards other animals. What humans need to evolve in, is humanity itself, towards more sentient beings, until there is equanimous compassion for all.
Probably with knowledge of initial resistance due to greed for meat, the Buddha gradually encouraged an increasingly pro-vegetarian (and pro-vegan) lifestyle. This is especially relevant to lay followers, who do not eat random food, who choose instead, at supermarkets or restaurants. Even those who eat home-cooked meals can direct menu of the next meal by request. With deeper awareness of the irrefutable links between killing, buying and eating, laity are also offering more meat-free meals to monastics. Indeed, in the wake of this ongoing horse meat scandal, there is no better time to reduce or renounce meat consumption!
All sentient beings
treasure their own lives
and their own kind,
even if not treasured by others.
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