At some point, the urge to get back to the land strikes all but the most hardened urbanite.

At some point, the urge to get back to the land strikes all but the most hardened urbanite.

The lure of a gilded time past when one could stroll the garden viewing the winter's menu in the subtle light of a mild summer afternoon has caused millions to dig up the backyard. A wistful longing for the non-drug-fed chicken roaming free, dropping brown eggs has chicken coops being sold at urban home-improvement stores. A vision of riding a horse across the open plain, wind blowing hard enough to make one's hair look good but not enough to blow sand led the lords of five-acre ranchettes to buy a sturdy steed upon which to gaze.

When the garden goes back to lawn and a passing Labrador eats the last chicken, the end of the vision is relatively clean. Not so when it is realized that if you want an expensive hobby, horses are right up there with a boat. Riding in a five-acre circle gets old, the vet bills pile up, the kids go to college and the dream becomes a serious problem.

That problem, according to the Unwanted Horse Coalition, adds up to 170,000 lame, injured, dangerous or simply unwanted horses roaming across the ranchette landscape.

The problem will be addressed, some believe, by allowing the slaughter of horses for human consumption. The way has been cleared for the other red meat by United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsac's announcement that permits will be issued for horse slaughter.

There is much debate now about whether this is appropriate. Anyone who has interacted with a horse knows that they are intelligent, beautiful creatures that sometimes remind one of a very large puppy. Thus it becomes a chasm difficult to cross to envision Flicka wrapped for steaks.

In much of the rest of the world - especially places where meals are irregular or every man is a gourmand - the horse is food. In France and Italy, horsemeat is much sought after as a delicacy.

In Argentina (home of the southern hemisphere's cowboys), Brazil, Israel and here at home, it is considered taboo to eat a horse. Whether it is because we are not hungry enough or don't cook it as well as the French, that is the fact.

With permits being issued for horsemeat production across the country and in Missouri, the day is near when it will be available at your market. Whether you can separate a vision of the noble steed from your dinner table will be a matter of individual choice.

Sometime our vision of a romantic past is just that - a vision, not reality. Electric Horseman Robert Redford put it succinctly when asked by reporter Jane Fonda if she could pet his extraordinary steed: "He ain't no dog." In the romantic past horses were laborers and transportation. They were charged into gunfire, made to drag plows and eaten when the going got tough.

Now that we have tanks, tractors and canned spaghetti, our sensibilities have changed. In spite of that, there is no moral dictum that prevents us enjoying a horse steak. There is only our Rawhide-and-ranchettes view of a world where there are lots of other animals we would rather eat.