The Grand National might be more than a month away, but the UK has already gone horse crazy. Indeed, the revelation that many of us have been unwittingly eating horsemeat ready meals has sparked somewhat of a grand, national debate. Based on my extremely unscientific method of listening to the various vox pops being furiously collected by the major news outlets, two strands of thought seem to be dominating the public discourse.
I’m not suggesting that UK food standards represent some gold-plated benchmark beyond the reach of lesser authorities; just that if you reduce the number of stages between the farm and the plate, you lower the risk of something being mislabelled along the way.
• Argument one: "It’s disgusting! I cannot bear the thought of eating horsemeat."
• Argument two: "What’s wrong with eating horsemeat? The French eat it all the time."*
This, of course, is a massive generalisation. I wouldn’t want anybody to think that I’m labouring under the misapprehension that my view is somehow unique or insightful. I’m sure that many hold the same opinions as me, although the predominant focus of the media appears to lie elsewhere. That being said, I have problems with both of the arguments paraphrased above.
Rather predictably, I’m going to begin with argument one: "It’s disgusting!" Is it? Is it really
? If you are saying that it’s disgusting that food manufacturers and distributors have been selling incorrectly labelled produce, then yes, I would be inclined to agree with you. However, the mere fact that this animal is one that you have arbitrarily deemed unsuitable for your consumption is not – in my opinion – the crux of the problem. It strikes me as a little odd that those of us who choose to eat meat find some animals more ethically acceptable than others. If it’s a matter of taste, then fair enough. I’m not suggesting that you should be compelled to eat a foodstuff that you don’t like. I’d rather receive a swift kick to the kneecap than have somebody force asparagus down my neck. Neither am I suggesting that we all go out to the back yard and slaughter our family pets in preparation for tonight’s supper. What I am rather inelegantly trying to say is that there is nothing innately wrong with eating horse.** As animals go, it is just as legitimate as cow, sheep, chicken, duck, dog, etc. Granted, this argument does concern ‘taste’, but not in the truest sense of the word. If the horsemeat scandal has taught us anything, it’s that horsemeat tastes uncannily similar to beef. Hippophobia, in this sense, is a little hypocritical.
So, on to argument two: "What’s wrong with eating horsemeat?" Well, nothing in itself, as I’ve just explained. You’re free – with some notable exceptions*** – to go out and eat whichever of our planet’s creatures you might fancy. If you’re hankering for hare, you can hop out and catch one. If you’ve got a craving for crocodile, fill your boots. Again, I’m not trying to build an argument against vegetarianism any more than I’m suggesting it’s natural to eat meat. I’m simply making the observation that if you want to eat something, you usually can.
So, what is
the big problem with horsemeat lasagne? The problem, as far as I can make out, is that it was being sold as beef
lasagne. If you’ve purchased a product that purports to be 100 per cent cow, you’re within your rights to complain when you find that it’s all horse. Nobody would put up with such shenanigans if the animals were still alive. Have you ever tried training a cow to pull a plough?****
In my uninformed opinion, whilst completely unacceptable, this type of mislabelling is one of the inherent risks involved in sourcing food from far afield. I’m not suggesting that UK food standards represent some gold-plated benchmark beyond the reach of lesser authorities; just that if you reduce the number of stages between the farm and the plate, you lower the risk of something being mislabelled along the way. Moreover, shortening the physical length of this journey could significantly lessen the damage that we’re inflicting on old Mother Nature.
I am aware that this is all getting a little pious, and I don’t mean to preach. After all, the few of you who read this blog on a regular basis have become accustomed to nonsense. Ironically, by trying to make serious points, I’m leaving myself wide open to accusations of mislabelling. With this in mind, I’m off to eat my tea; beaded mush-grooms for starters, a filly of fish for my mane course and don-key lime pie for dessert. Pony-apolitan ice cream anybody?
* Along with copious amounts of frogs’ legs and snails, so goes the general consensus
** Assuming you’re of the opinion that there is nothing innately wrong with eating animals generally
*** Please check the legality of your targets before embarking on a culinary rampage
**** Note to self – pitch the CowPlough to Deborah Meaden