Why is everyone so stunned by the discovery of horse DNA in so-called
beefburgers? It seems that the desperate scramble of everyone involved in
the lifecycle of these burgers to pin the blame on someone lower down the
food chain has left a more unpleasant aftertaste than the burgers themselves.
Once again, consumers are only too happy to vilify food manufacturers and
supermarkets as money-grabbing and careless, without accepting that they
themselves play a part in the chain.
The fact that nobody noticed that the horseburgers tasted funny suggests to
me that some people have so utterly lost touch with what real food tastes like
that they are prepared to eat anything, provided that its got a nice name. As
any parent know, it’s the oldest trick in the book to get a three-year-old to eat
something they claim not to like: disguise anything as inoffensive chicken and
they’re none the wiser. Nobody would fancy the idea of eating a mixture of
various unethically reared meats from around the world mashed up on their
plate. But throw in some herbs (or at least that’s what you hope they are) and
shape it into a pattie and bob’s yer uncle: it’s a delicious burger. People don’t
like the thought of eating horsemeat, but there’s actually nothing wrong with it
in terms of food safety. This illustrates that we’ve become so disengaged with
food production that we only care about what we think we’re eating, rather than
making sure that we know.
I’m willing to bet that the burgers involved in the scandal were very cheap.
We need to start asking ourselves how a supermarket can afford to charge such
low prices, and ask ourselves whether we’re really happy not really knowing
what goes into our dinners. Of course supermarkets are businesses, so they are
designed to make money, but at the end of the day they are not going to charge
more than is strictly reasonable for a decent cut of meat, they are in constant
competition. If you opt for the cheap versions and decide to ignore the issue
of not really knowing how the supermarkets can afford to sell something so
cheaply, you’ve got to accept that you cannot expect the same standards of
quality in production: corners have to be cut somewhere. You’ve got to admit
it’s a bit hypocritical to buy a product purely because of the price without
asking where it’s come from, or ascertaining exactly how many people have
been involved in its production.
Time was if you had a complaint about a product you could go straight back
to the village shop where you bought it and ask them who the farmer was
that produced it. Now, of course that is unfeasible nowadays, but the number
of middle-men involved in this scandal is incredible. Surely it is possible to
produce a burger without swapping large quantities of frozen meat between
warehouses? Human error is unavoidable, and the likelihood of mistakes
happening surely increases with each new foster parent introduced into the burger’s childhood?
Yes, good quality meat is expensive, and I’m sure many people will feel it’s
their human right to be able to eat meat every night of the week, but actually it’s
not. More to the point, it’s not especially healthy, nor is it particularly efficient
given the global population rise. If we want to complain about being mis-sold
meat, it is entirely up to us, the consumers, to make clear to producers that we
are not prepared to eat food that it improperly labelled with suspicious phrases
such as ‘produce of more than one country’. We cannot expect them to change
until we do.