New York diner backs down over horse meat on menu

The M. Wells Dinette at MoMA PS1 is a cafeteria-style restaurant, which pays homage to the building's former identity as a schoolhouse with communal tables.
The M. Wells Dinette at MoMA PS1 is a cafeteria-style restaurant, which pays homage to the building’s former identity as a schoolhouse with communal tables.

Horse meat is off the menu at a chic New York diner, which said it never intended to upset people.

The M. Wells Dinette at the New York Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 gallery created a storm when it said it planned to put horse tartare – raw horse meat – on its menu.

The move sparked a letter from the Humane Society of the United, which has since welcomed the diner’s decision to withdraw the menu option.

The restaurant’s chef and co-owner, Hugue Dufour, had wanted New Yorkers to sample the fare, but an angry response from animal advocates and concerns over the potential legal ramifications from health officials prompted the decision to back away from the idea.

“Horse meat is off the menu at the dinette and it is not likely to return,” the eatery said in a prepared statement.

“We took it off because it upset so many people, which truly surprised us. That is not the effect we look for in our food, so away it goes.

“We thought about serving it because we like to offer customers new things. We get tired of beef-chicken-pork all the time and we assume diners do, too.

“Whatever else horses are – draft animals, companions, transport – their meat is also delicious and affordable.

“In Quebec, where our chef is from, the presence of horse on a menu is unremarkable. Canada is far from the only culture where eating horse does not rise to the level of taboo.

“Here in New York the law is ambiguous. We received contradictory opinions from two different government agencies with overlapping jurisdiction. All we can say with certainty is that the law appears to be in flux.

“Public opinion here is split, too. Last summer, at a food festival in Brooklyn, we sold over 5000 horse bologna foie gras grilled cheese sandwiches to many happy New Yorkers.

“Nevertheless, scandalizing animal lovers is not what we want to be famous for. It was certainly not our intent to insult American culture.

“However, it must be said, part of living in a city like New York means learning to tolerate different customs. If our critics can forgive us, we invite them in for a drink and a bite of whatever animal they do consume (if any). At any rate, we cry uncle [admit defeat].”

The dinette, which opened only recently, is a reincarnation of Dufour’s popular M. Wells Diner, which was popular in Long Island City, Queens.

It lasted only 14 months before it was closed over a rent dispute.

In the new restaurant, the menu is written on a blackboard and changes daily.

Brian Shapiro, New York state director for the humane society, welcomed the news that horse meat was history at the diner.

“Eighty per cent of Americans oppose horse slaughter – they made their voices heard and the museum listened.

“The Humane Society of the United States applauds the M. Wells Dinette and MoMA PS1 for making the right decision in response to public concern about the cruel and inhumane horse slaughter industry and the potential health risks associated with consuming horsemeat.

“Americans regard horses as beloved companions, not dinner, and we’re glad that tradition will be upheld at one of New York’s premiere cultural hubs.”


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