One of my columns last summer focused on a stop at Starbucks® while on vacation. You might recall that our young clerk explained to the customer in front of us she wouldn’t eat the marshmallow snack offerings – she was vegetarian. In fun, I questioned her about vegetarianism versus veganism.

The broader premise in her response was correct: marshmallows are derived from gelatin – a product derived from animal harvest and thus off limits to vegetarians. Her explanation, though, was incorrect: she explained that marshmallows are derived from horses’ hooves (nope, hooves are keratin, not gelatin; not to mention we don't harvest horses in this country).

My intent for the column was to illustrate some of the complexities and broad misconceptions that surround the food system. Judging by the responses somehow I missed the mark. For example, one reader responded, “By insisting [horses] should be sold for meat, you drag their value down to the mere cents-per-pound meat price.” Insisting horses be sold for meat – where did that come from? In fact, I never intended to delve into the horse slaughter issue.

Another respondent scolded me about including, “…a debate of vegetarians (good or bad) really has no place in a horse article.” A “horse article” – are you sure? But it wasn’t meant to be about vegetarianism either. And so it’s probably the other way around – I should have NEVER mentioned horses in conjunction with the food system. However, given the young lady’s explanation it just couldn’t be avoided.

Well, so much for good intentions. But there was one rebuke that particularly caught my attention – especially the mention of a veterinarian:

“If [the author] has concern about horses, and also thinks they need to die, how about a painless injection? Oh, wait--then the horse "owner" doesn't get paid, but has to pay a vet instead. That doesn't fit well into his "food system". Having slaughter as a dumping ground promotes irresponsible breeding of domestic horses. This whole article is a smug and condescending look at a topic with which the writer is woefully unfamiliar, an attempt to justify the writer's own consumption of abused corpses.”

The comment immediately reminded me of the Xtranormal production entitled, A Day In The Life Of An Equine Vet. The video revolves around hypothetical dialogue between a veterinarian and a horse owner. The owner, whose horse cut his leg four weeks ago, is only now seeking medical treatment. Part of the dialogue goes like this:

Vet: Did a vet ever come out to look at this laceration? It is very large and I’m afraid that it might communicate with the hock which would be very bad.
Owner: Oh no. I just put some peroxide on it every day and kept giving him his supplements. He seemed ok. He kept eating and everything…Can you fix the cut on his leg? I love him very much. That is why I buy him so many special supplements and research his problems on the internet every day. I also have an animal communicator who speaks to him once a week.
Vet: Your horse needs surgery to repair this laceration. He will probably also need to have his hock flushed and treated for sepsis. He will need medications for pain. He will also need antibiotics and bandages. Depending on the severity of the damage, the cost could be up to $10,000.
Owner: That is a lot of money. I rescued this horse and he was free. Is there any way that you could do this for free because he was rescued? I did not plan to spend any money at all on him when I rescued him from the race track. I read on the internet that thoroughbreds are very healthy and have no problems at all. Don’t you love horses? Don’t you want to help me and my horse?
Vet: I cannot do this for free. But I can try to keep your costs to a minimum. Do you have a credit card that you can use? If we cannot fix this laceration I will have to recommend euthanasia. This is a very bad situation.
Owner: I have a credit card but I reached my limit last week when I bought supplements. I guess I’ll have to ask someone if I can borrow the money. I can’t believe you want to kill my horse. I rescued him. And you should treat him for free. I love him very much and we have a very special relationship.

Remember, this is meant to be a spoof – a humorous skit of hypothetical dialogue. And so I laugh out loud every time I hear that monotone, computer-generated voice stating, “I can’t believe you want to kill my horse." But part of the genius of the video is that it also tackles some very serious, important issues: namely, proper horse care and management.

However, part of the video’s appeal, and why the comment above particularly caught my attention, is that I’ve witnessed it firsthand. More than once, almost word-for-word I’ve heard individuals say, “I can’t believe you want to kill my horse.” Art is supposed to imitate life, but in those instances I couldn’t help but wonder if life doesn’t imitate art. Either way it doesn’t  really matter. What does matter is that when it comes to horses the discussion can be particularly prickly and galvanizing.

All food for thought (absent horse meat, of course)...