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Question: A semiotic analysis on cultural meanings of eating horsemeat

Answer: Purpose
Drawing on food consumption research and human-animal studies, this paper aims to explore how the meanings related to a living horse may be transferred to those of horsemeat. This is accomplished by constructing a nuanced understanding of how different semantic meaning categories of accepting/avoiding consuming horsemeat relate to each other.

The current data are collected from various sources of media discussions, including online news, online discussion forums, blog postings and printed articles, generated in Finland after the year 2013. The data are analysed applying Greimas’ (1987) semiotic square to open up the semantic meaning categories appearing in the media discussions.
The semiotic square shows that the meanings of horsemeat arise between the binary oppositions of human-like and animal-like. In this structure, the category of human-like makes eating horsemeat impossible, whereas the category of animal-like makes horsemeat good to eat. The main categories are completed and contrasted by the categories of not human-like and not animal-like. They represent horsemeat as an acceptable food, but only after certain justifications.

Research limitations/implications
The data are based on Finnish media texts, and therefore, the identified categories are interpreted in this specific cultural context.

The current semiotic analysis adds to the existing food consumption research by shedding light on the cultural barriers that make something edible or inedible. By so doing, the findings present a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the horse as a special kind of meat animal and the justifications for eating horsemeat. Consequently, the findings offer new insights concerning changing food consumption behaviours into a more sustainable direction, pointing out the hidden meanings that influence this process.

(Source: , 27 Sep 2021)

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