Tag Archives: Montreal

How Americans Think: About Horsemeat, For Example

by David Beriss

Photo by David Beriss

Should the slaughter of horses for food be permitted in the United States?  This question was raised recently when the U.S. Congress passed legislation that would permit horse slaughter in the U.S. for the first time since 2007. Back in 2006, Congress passed a bill that prohibited the USDA from inspecting horse slaughterhouses, which effectively stopped all horse slaughter in the country. This November legislators passed a measure to allow inspections to restart.  President Obama signed the bill and inspections (and thus slaughter) are again legal.  So far, no horse slaughterhouses have opened.  But it could happen and if it does, it will be controversial.

The first thing Americans often ask when they hear about horse slaughter is whether or not horse is actually good to eat. At the risk of being called horrid names, let me confess that I have eaten horse—in France, where they serve horse and have specialized “boucheries chevalines”—and I don’t remember anything special about it.  It was much like beef.  Horse is consumed in many countries in both Europe and Asia.  Anthropologists who visited Montreal in November might have tried the steak tartare at the “Frites Alors!” Belgian-style French fry chain there, which is offered in both beef and horse versions. According to the 1988 edition of the Larousse Gastronomique, steak tartare is prepared with horse “according to the purists” and in Belgium is known as “filet américain.”

This seems quite ironic since Americans generally do not eat horse. In fact, horse meat has not been consumed in the U.S. in any regular way for a very long time.  At the end of the Second World War, when beef was scarce, Americans resorted to horsemeat and Republicans ran against “Horsemeat Harry” Truman.  Again in the early 1970s, when beef prices skyrocketed under the Nixon administration, people tried horsemeat, a trend illustrated on an episode of “All in the Family.”

Today eating horsemeat  is very controversial, to the point that activists object to any law that would allow slaughter, even for consumption in other countries.  But with plenty of affordable meat in the U.S., the debate now is not really about food.  It is about a series of other issues, ranging from how Americans classify and treat animals, to how they evaluate the social and political organization of society.

There have been many controversies regarding the humane treatment of animals in the past several years.  Foie gras is one such item, condemned because of the manner in which ducks and geese are raised to produce very fat livers.  Similarly, veal is often reviled because of the treatment of calves prior to slaughter.  I suspect, however, that most opponents of these foods do not object in principle to the consumption of these animals.  If it were possible to obtain foie gras or veal without inhumane treatment, they would probably cease to object to consumption (read here about humane veal and here about humane foie gras).  Ducks, geese, sheep, and cows are all seen as livestock, raised to become food.

People have, of course, long raised objections to animal slaughter in general.  Watch, if you dare, this short 1949 documentary by French filmmaker Georges Franju, “Le Sang des Bêtes.

It starts out like a surreal film of life on the edges of Paris, but quickly becomes a meditation on the slaughter of animals, including a horse. It is graphic, bloody and full of death.  It is worth considering, along with the conditions in which cows, sheep and poultry are raised for mass consumption in the U.S. today.  Why do horses stand out amidst the larger problems of our industrialized meat production system?

Horses are not seen as livestock.  At least not by anti-slaughter activists.  One might invoke the history of horses in the American imagination, associated as they are with everything from Paul Revere’s ride to the Wild West.  The terrible fate that awaited unwanted, lame or old horses was always the glue factory, not the slaughterhouse.  That was bad enough.  Click here to view an early Popeye cartoon about a rescued glue factory reject. Eating horses has not been central to the American equine imagination in quite a while.

Yet horses are not exactly pets either, at least not like cats and dogs.  They are still working animals, racing, pulling tourists, herding cattle, etc.  We name our horses, cats and dogs and tend to see them as having a closer relationship to us than livestock.  Horses seem to fit somewhere in between pets and livestock, neither edible nor entirely part of the family.

American horses become food when something else breaks down in their relationship to humans. They are unable to continue their other roles, due to age or infirmity. Or their humans are unable to continue to support them.  One of the motivations behind lifting the ban on horse slaughter inspections was a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office arguing that the same number of horses that had been slaughtered prior to the ban were now being shipped, often in difficult conditions, to Canada and Mexico for slaughter there.  In addition, with the recession, the number of cases of neglect or even abuse of horses has increased significantly in the U.S.  Horse rescue organizations are overwhelmed and unable to meet the need.

The GAO report recommended, among other things, re-establishing slaughter inspections as a way of addressing this problem.  This suggests that we think differently about horses, even if we do name them.  When people abandon dogs and cats, we do not slaughter them for human consumption.

It is worth noting that the debate around horse slaughter has taken on some of the same terms and concepts used in other political debates in the U.S.  For example, a video on the United Horsemen web site, a pro-slaughter group, asserts that “saying that the slaughter of horses for human consumption is wrong because we do not eat it ourselves…shows how far this country has fallen.”  They go on to claim that suppressing slaughter is the same thing as suppressing freedom.  This is, if I am not mistaken, Tea Party language.

Similarly, opponents of horse slaughter draw on the language of the left to make their points.  The Humane Society recently issued a call to action that could have come from those denouncing the banking industry, arguing that “the predatory horse slaughter industry has cash signs in its eyes, and it’s unrestrained by any compassion for these creatures. Its profiteers treat the horses like commodities on the hoof.”

Freedom horses. Horses as commodities. Somewhere between livestock and companions, horses may not be food for the American table, but they certainly show us a thing or two about how Americans think.


Filed under anthropology, culture, film, food policy, horsemeat, humane slaughter, Montreal

Montreal: Smoked Meat!

by Alan Nash
Department of Geography, Planning and Environment
Concordia University, Montreal

Schwartz's in 2008, photo by Alan Nash


“What should I eat in Montreal?”

As if answering your question, Calvin Trillin, in a November 2009 column in The New Yorker, acknowledged the reply that most Montrealers would likely give when he remarked “smoked meat was probably Montreal’s best-known food…”.

Similar august endorsements will answer your obvious follow-up question, “where’s the best place to eat smoked meat?”

“When you’re in Montreal, you must go to Schwartz’s” opines The New York Times (a headline that I have been unable to track back to the original – but come from a poster on the wall of the restaurant itself).

Small wonder, perhaps, that Schwartz’s restaurant has recently been the subject of a stage musical (called – yes, you’ve guessed it — Schwartz: The Musical) that ran in Montreal’s Centaur Theatre to packed houses in early 2011.  I have the t-shirt.

As the place for the food, the epicenter of smoked meat in the city, there is no doubt in the minds of many that Schwartz’s is Montreal. Certainly, it fits the bill of an “iconic food” – to borrow Jennifer Berg’s helpful term – and, as an iconic food becomes one that we do not have to eat (or like) before we will recommend it to others. Like the newspaper headline, smoked meat has passed into legend and becomes a marketer’s dream.

If, after a visit to Schwartz’s cramped 61-seater diner-style restaurant on St Laurent Boulevard, you still have the stomach for further questions, they are almost certainly going to be “What exactly is Montreal smoked meat?” “What’s the difference between Montreal smoked meat and New York pastrami?” and “Which is best?

Photo by Alan Nash

I won’t answer that last one — on the grounds of personal safety — but as to the historical background of this story, I can turn to Eiran Harris, perhaps the authority on Montreal smoked meat.

In an interview in Cuizine, he ascribes smoked meat’s origins to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who, in the late nineteenth century, brought with them a familiarity with the meat known as pastrami in Yiddish. Once in Montreal, he notes, two ways of making smoked meat developed. The ‘dry cure’ used the brisket, a cut of meat taken from a steer’s forequarters, which was then rubbed with salt and spices and left to soak for between 12-20 days, before being smoked for six hours. A subsequent development, the ‘wet cure’ reduced the soaking period to about four days to speed things up, and one final innovation, “steaming” the meat for three hours, replaced volume that the brisket had lost through curing. For the record, Schwartz’s (established in 1928) uses the traditional “dry cure” with a final steaming before slicing and serving.

Oh – and how is it different from pastrami? Let me turn to Montreal food writer and Montreal Gazette columnist, Bill Brownstein, who is brave enough to record a view on this contentious matter. He writes that Montreal smoked meat “can be differentiated from pastrami or corned beef by its higher ratio of fat and spice, which connoisseurs will attest accounts for its superior taste’ (2006, 17). Be that as it may, just for the record, there are some basic differences between the two. “New York” style pastrami, according to Bacon’s entry on the subject in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, uses plate rather than brisket – a superior cut of beef  and one usually dry-rubbed with a mixture of spices and then refrigerated for up to ten days before smoking.

Debates about smoked meat in Montreal are always hard to settle, but no one doubts that the secret of Schwartz’s success must lie in a heady combination of its ability to serve top-quality smoked meat, and the publicity that has come to surround both the food and the place.

You should try some.


Bacon, J. ‘Pastrami’, in Smith, A.F. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. New York: Oxford University Press, vol. 2, 2004, 240-241.

Berg, J. ‘Iconic Foods’, in Katz, Solomon H. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. New York: Scribner, vol. 2, 2003, 243-244.

_____. ‘From the Big Bagel to the Big Roti? The Evolution of New York City’s Jewish Food Icons’, in Hauck-Lawson, A. and J. Deutsch (eds.), Gastropolis: Food and New York City. New York: Columbia Press, 2009, 252-273.

Brownstein, B. Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 2006.

Harris, E. ‘Montreal-Style Smoked Meat: An interview with Eiran Harris conducted by Lara Rabinovitch, with the cooperation of the Jewish Public Library’, Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures vol.1 no. 2, no pagination [e-journal article accessed on 2 March and 8 April 2010 at www.erudit.org/revue/cuizine/2009/v1/n2/037859ar.html] .

Trillin, C. ‘Canadian Journal: Funny Food’, The New Yorker (23 November), 2009, 68-69.


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Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, anthropology, culture, heritage, Montreal

Let’s Root for Montreal’s Bagels!

by Christine Jourdan

Fairmount Bagel Bakery


Forget about the rivalry between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadians, or between the Cortland apple and the McIntosh apple, or between the Met orchestra and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. All these do not matter! What really matters is the rivalry between New York bagels and Montreal Bagels. Now, that is a serious thing to argue about! You did not know Montreal had bagels? We may be Canadians, Eh! but we have bagels too! And if you’ve visited other iconic shops like The Halal Guys in Montreal – it’s time to treat yourself to dessert in the form of a delicious Montreal space bagel.

These bagels are symbolic. To start with, Montreal bagels have big holes. Not ordinary holes but holes with meaning. You see, we like big holes in Montreal: be it the city finances, or the Big O (the O shaped Olympic stadium that looks like the big hole of a urinal), or the island of Montreal, itself a hole in the St-Lawrence river, or the pot holes we have in our streets all year long, holes matter here. Good bagel holes have got to be big too! Then of course, there is the matter of the chewy dough. We have plenty of things to chew on: the corruption in the construction industry; the highest income tax in all the Americas; the Plan Nord that is selling our wood away; and of course, the winter that lasts forever. No wonder our national animal is the beaver! Chew is what we do! But then of course Montreal bagels are sweeter, boiled in honey-sweetened water and always cooked in wood-fired ovens. And there are plenty of things we are sweet on: the green spaces in the city; the majestic beauty of the St Lawrence river; bilingualism and the exhilaration it brings to some of us; the café-terrasse culture; the safety of the streets; the walkability of this city; the friendliness of people, and of course, the McIntosh apple, the Canadians and the MSO!

St-Viateur Bagel

Montreal bagel aficionados know their bagels and the true amateurs are divided between two groups of faithful bagel eaters: Those who prefer the Fairmount Street Bagels  and those who prefer the St-Viateur Street Bagels. All others are pale copies and do not measure up in quality. Some enlightened New Yorkers have come to their senses and affirm a preference for Montreal Bagels. Some even developed an expertise in these matters. For instance, my New York friend Bambi prefers the St-Viateur version while my New York friend Kate prefers the Fairmount version. Be they from Fairmount or from St Viateur, nothing beats fresh bagels bought in the middle of the night, after a party or a late movie, from a tiny shop with a roaring fire oven, when the stomach reminds the mind that food is needed, or when the mind reminds the stomach that food is wanted. Like a proud Montrealer, I truly prefer Montreal Bagels, complete with big holes, piping hot, right out of the wood oven, covered with roasted Sesame Seeds, chewy and sweet.



Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, anthropology, bagels, culture, Montreal

AAA 2011: Montreal Markets!

by Amy Trubek
University of Vermont

Atwater Market, click the picture to visit the market's web site.

Living in rural Vermont, there are many food related pleasures available to me on any given day. Our vibrant artisan food movement means that I can procure delectable farmstead cheese, crusty slow-fermented breads, and grass-fed beef easily and often. However, there are many foods that are difficult to find, especially those that represent cuisines less bland and less focused on wheat, dairy, and beef. Our Yankee heritage remains. And so what to do? For my husband and I, and many of our friends, the solution is to go to our nearest metropolitan center, Montreal, and shop at the two amazing year-round indoor/outdoor markets: Atwater and Jean Talon. Anyone interested in food and food culture should definitely make a visit to one or both of these markets when you are in Montreal for the AAAs!

Atwater Market is in the English-speaking Western part of Montreal. The Lachine Canal bike path goes to the market. Atwater is the smaller of the two markets and specializes in fresh meats, prepared meats and charcuterie. Paté et Terrine is especially good. Another great find at Atwater is Les Douceurs du Marché which stocks amazing olive oils, European and Canadian cheeses, and much more. Of course there is a stand that sells sirop d’erable, or maple syrup, and many maple syrup based products!

Description and directions: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Shopping/atwater-market and http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/English/Atwater/.

Jean Talon Market photo

Jean Talon Market, from montrealfood.com

Jean Talon is larger, located in Little Italy, north of downtown off of Rue Saint Laurent. There is a Jean Talon stop on the metro. Jean Talon is the largest outdoor public market in North America. Jean Talon has a huge array of fresh produce, much of it from Quebec, although some is also imported from the United States and beyond. There are a number of fascinating small stands right near the produce section, including Jardin Sauvage that sells locally sourced foraged foods, especially mushrooms. The outdoor market also has several stands selling maple syrup (in Canada sold in cans) and maple syrup products.  In the neighborhood around Jean Talon are numerous ethnic specialty stores, including Maya which sells wonderful corn and flour tortillas.

Click here for a photoessay on Jean Talon in Cuizine, an ejournal about Canadian food culture. For further description and directions, visit: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Shopping/jean-talon-market


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Food Anthropology in Montreal!

Call for Papers: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition 

Your opportunity to present at the 110th American Anthropological Association  annual meeting in Montréal, November 16-20, 2010

The theme of this year’s meeting is ”Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies”. The executive committee asks us to reflect on these concepts and process of how differences are made, marked, removed, maintained and altered. The membership of SAFN is well-positioned to take a leading role in addressing this theme, given both the universality and malleability of food beliefs, nutritional practices, and resultant health and disease. As a truly interdisciplinary group of scholars within anthropology, the SAFN membership is in a unique position to demonstrate how anthropology’s holistic perspective remains a powerful tool for both understanding and tackling the global issue of “Traces, Tidemarks, and Legacies”. For more information about the national meeting, including elaboration of the theme and important dates, see the AAA meetings web site.

There are three types of sessions for papers and posters: (1) Invited, (2) Volunteered, and (3) AAA Public Policy Forums. While many authors have historically preferred the paper format, the major advantage of presenting a poster over a paper is that instead of 15 minutes of fame, you get an hour and half, during which time you can discuss and debate your findings and ideas.

If you are interested in having an Invited session, please send your proposals to Sera Young (sly3@cornell.edu) no later than March 13; earlier is better. You must also submit your proposed session on the AAA meeting website by then. Session proposals should include a session abstract (250 words) and the names and details (institution, title) of all co-authors. Invited sessions are generally cutting-edge, directly related to the meeting theme, or cross sub-disciplines, i.e. they have broader appeal. One way to increase your and our presence at the meetings is to have a co-sponsored invited session between SAFN and another sub-discipline.  Invited time is shared with the other sub-discipline and the session is double-indexed. Volunteered sessions are comprised of individually submitted papers or posters that are put together based on some common theme as well as sessions proposed as invited that were not selected as such. These must be submitted via the AAA website by April 15. AAA Public Policy Forums are reviewed by the AAA Committee on Public Policy, the deadline for those is March 15. If you’d like to discuss ideas for sessions and/or papers, feel free to contact the 2011 Program Chair, Sera Young (sly3@cornell.edu, 607-351-0172).

AAA is increasingly open to innovative presentation styles, including round table discussions, meet the author, panel discussions and poster sessions. All of these are submitted through the AAA registration website.
We look forward to seeing the fruits of your fascinating research!

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Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, Announcements, anthropology, Call for Papers, SAFN Member Research