Horse meat falsely labeled as beef has turned up in prepared foods across Europe with a French company, Spanghero, at its epicenter. The company denies that it purposely mislabeled meat it bought from a Dutch trader and repackaged in Luxembourg. A Romanian company says it provided the original horse meat and labeled it as such.
The horse meat scandal will have an impact on sales of prepared foods, but likely only in the short term, experts told The Associated Press. Unlike the mad cow disease crisis in the 1990s and the bird flu crisis in the mid-2000s — which led to extended drops in beef and chicken sales — the horse meat found in lasagna and other prepared dishes does not pose a health risk.
"It's a matter of disgust," said Fischler. "You've been eating something you were not aware of."
Yet horse meat, which is much cheaper than beef, has been eaten happily for decades by some in France who appreciate both the savings and the taste.
Claude Verhoye of Paris says she treasures her memories of eating horse.
"When I was young, every Sunday my grandmother made a horse roast," said Verhoye, 64, standing in line at the horse butcher at a Right Bank market. "My daughter rides horses and says you shouldn't do this. I rode horses, too, and it doesn't stop me. I never feel guilty."
Genevieve Cazes-Valette, a marketing professor at the University of Toulouse who is also a food anthropologist, said while the French need quick meals during the workweek they keep alive the old culinary traditions on the weekends.
"In reality, we are into two types of meals," she explained. "During the week, you eat anything ... Then there is a clear return to pleasure, both at the market, during the preparation and in the degustation" over the weekend.
In addition, the pleasures of eating and sharing a meal are not reserved for the elite in France but are treasured by all, a universality that may help keep the French food tradition alive despite the pressures of modern life.
In her 2012 report, "The Evolution of Eating in France," Laisney predicts that new eating profiles will emerge. She says it will not be unusual to see — even within the same French citizen — someone who can move easily between factory food and great meals, depending on the day of the week, the time of year and their professional and family constraints.
So despite the horse meat scandal, French pride in their cuisine remains a constant.
"The French continue to think their cuisine is reliable and of better quality than many others," said Cazes-Valette. "In addition, I think it's true."