Saturday, 16 February 2013

You are what you eat?

Did you hear that even vegetarians aren't safe in this 'Horsegate' scandal?  Veggie burgers have been found to contain traces of uniquorn!  *Wah wah waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah...*

I haven't done more than briefly touch on this subject on my blog.  Ok, I didn't touch on it.  I rehashed other rubbish jokes.  Not the same thing.  Generally I avoid the news in any form, TV, newspaper and online.  News is depressing.  Misery, illness, death, hatred, bigotry, murder, oppression, war, famine, pollution, corruption.   All negative, and played out for billions of us on a daily basis, billions of people focusing on that negativity and therefore attracting more negativity.  A lot of people may not agree.  But personally I think too much.  Way, way too much.  I'd rather be ill-informed and happy than well-informed and too scared to live.  If that makes sense to anyone.  Not meaning to get too profound, just want to give an insight into why I personally don't watch or read the news.  This is probably going to be a dissertation, but it's just my humble take on it, as a normal (lol) harrassed, mum of 4 on a budget.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks it would be imposssible not to know about the furore unfolding in front of our eyes, aka 'Horsegate'.   Testing, in Ireland I believe initially, uncovered the fact that not only did some products - claiming to be beef - contain pork, but that some products contained horsemeat or horse DNA.  These products were traced back to the suppliers, who it emerged also supplied British supermarkets with products.  The potentially contaminated products were immediately removed from sale in Britain and tested.  To find that - they too contained horsemeat.  As the days have turned into weeks, the supermarkets involved and the products involved have risen, and the last couple of days we have been informed that in the North West, school dinners have also been found to contain horsemeat.  In the supermarkets, horsemeat has been found in a chilled product, so this isn't just a 'cheap frozen meal' problem.   I have a feeling that the end is nowhere near in sight on this matter, and that the full horror story has nowhere near been told as yet.

What I find, dare I say it - amusing - about all this - is that we're muted in our indignation.  We're appalled by this news.  We're changing how we buy, how we consume, how we cook as a result.  But we're not forming angry mobs?  Not that that's a bad thing - don't get me wrong - but why are we accepting this news without a hint of fury?  Because we're British?  Because we don't complain, and we just get on with it, our stiff upper lips jutting out in a resigned acceptance of the issue?  No.  I don't think so.  We're a nation of whingers, despite what our stereotype dictates to the rest of the world.  So why are we shocked into relative silence about this?  It's something I've been thinking long and hard about these past few weeks.  Starting blog posts.  Discarding them.  Digesting more news.  Sitting looking at a blinking cursor.  Why is it so hard to talk or post about, when it's a major food crisis?   The biggest we've seen in the UK for a long time?

We've all got our take on this, but I believe we can be pigeon-holed into very few categories as consumers in the UK.  We can probably all slot ourself into a category and we'll all know someone else who will fill the others.

The ones who - this news doesn't affect them in the slightest.  Including but not limited to vegetarians. I know my friend Helen S will be one of these, and I haven't even spoken to her on this matter, because I know she'll be (rightfully, might I add) in smug mode.  I'll want to stick a free-range chicken where the sun don't shine (no offence, Floss!).  She makes everything completely from scratch.  She makes her own pastry and pies.  She boils chicken carcasses for stock.  Whip up a batch of scones just like that. 

The ones who - this news has affected them so much, that they're quite possibly too embarrassed to pipe up.  Those who buy convenience foods, microwave meals, cheap foods and who never, ever cook.  Those who have fed their children these foods - unknowingly, granted - and are feeling really awful about this now.   I'm not naming anyone.  But we all know at least one. 

Then you have the ones who - like me - are the tryers.  We're quite competent cooks but we're frazzled almost permanently.  Sometimes we can't be bothered cooking.  Sometimes our children are such fussy eaters (nature not nurture, I vow!) that if it wasn't for Chicken Dippers and Pizza and Waffles, then they'd starve.  Because we can't afford takeaway.    We generally have frozen vegetables in the freezer - just incase - because any vegetable is better than no vegetable.  We'll have a couple of jars of sauce in the cupboard, pasta sauce, curry sauce on standby. 

We're on a budget, but I don't/won't/can't buy inferior quality.  I was put off sausages for years and years after the horror stories swept school about a programme that had been on TV, saying that eyeballs and testicles went into cheap sausage.  I've never looked into the truth of this, but hey - we're selling 100% beefburgers with pork in, and frozen beef lasagne with 99% horsemeat, so it wouldn't surprise me in the least. As a result, I will only eat a premium sausage, with a very high meat content.   This means that for my family what once was a cheap and cheerful tea (back when we were growing up), has actually become a treat that we have to build a complete meal around.   No more sausage sandwiches for me.   Not when, ounce for ounce, it's probably just as cheap to buy a steak than it is a pack of sausages.   

I can't afford to eat organic.  I can't afford to eat free range.  Not when there's 6 mouths to feed.  I can't afford to shop at my local butcher, sadly.  And this is what it boils down to, when all is said and done.  Money.  The root of all evil.  Have butchers outpriced themselves?  Maybe, a bit.  If you can afford to go for quality over quantity, then no.   I think the truth is, not so much that butchers are expensive, but that supermarkets are cheap.  We've become accustomed, through need or necessity, to go for a cheaper option.  Times are hard for most people.  I remember when - just my husband and I - I could go to the butcher and get a couple of lovely thick gammon steaks as a treat.  Now for six of us?  Out of the question.  Now it's gammon steaks from the supermarket, barely thicker than bacon.  At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.  We want - or in some cases need - things as cheaply as possible whilst companies are striving for bigger profits - and this is the outcome.  And I think this is why we're so quiet.  This is why we're shocked, but not surprised.  We're appalled - but we're not surprised.

If you look at a pack of economy burgers.  Say for example, 80p for a pack of 8.  For a major retailer to be selling them for 80p to make a profit on them, and for the suppliers to make a profit from them as well... begs two questions.  One - how much do they cost to make to sell at a final cost of 80p to the consumer?  And two - what on earth then, is in them? 

I'm a massive fan of Aldi - one of the supermarkets caught up in the fiasco, because I believe the quality of their goods to be as good as the own labels of the 'Big Five'.  I'm also impressed with the statements that Aldi have released in relation to this, no nampy pampy half-hearted attempt either.  It was refreshing to see such a passionate and honest response from a Supermarket.  The only way I may have been caught out in this Horsegate, is that very occasionally I will buy a frozen burger.  9 times out of 10 I make my own.  Sometimes though, I just want convenience.  Then - still.  I won't buy cheap.  I would never, ever buy those economy burgers above.  My stomach wouldn't be able to keep them down.  Just the thought of consuming them makes me feel ill.   In the rare event that I buy a burger, I will always go for a premium burger - just like the sausage - it has to become a meal and not a cheap fix.  Preferably a fresh burger from the supermarket meat aisle.  Even more rare is that it's frozen.  And I always, always, always look on the packaging for 100% beef.  So I expect that to be 100% beef.  The burger I have eaten has been the Aldi 100% Beef Quarter Pounders.  Which has now been withdrawn from sale.   This is what's unacceptable to me.  If I ate an economy burger that stated 'meat' in the ingredients (never EVER eat anything that says 'meat') even then the fact that I'd consumed horse, when it's not a meat we eat in this country, would be unacceptable.  Purely because we don't eat horse as standard here in the UK.  It's not illegal.  It could be very nice.  We just don't.  If it's a mishmash of beef, lamb, pork and chicken, fine.  But not horse.  I've eaten a burger that professed to be 100% beef.  And it possibly wasn't.  That is unacceptable and I go as far as to say criminal.

Whether this is a  coincidence or not - I don't know.  It's something I was discussing with a good friend months ago, and I'd forgotten about it until we brought it up again today.  I love beef.  I love roast beef, steak, diced beef, you name it, I love it.  Again - I've never bought cheap beef mince.  Always lean steak mince, if there was a premium (such as Finest or Extra Special) to go for in the range, I'd go for that.  Until a couple of years ago.  Almost like a pregnant woman reacts violently to certain smells, I suddenly could not abide the smell of beef mince cooking.  I would dry fry it, even boil it, and the smell would make me feel physically sick.  It just didn't smell... right.  It also hasn't tasted right for a long, long time.  So I made the switch to pork mince for the majority of mince dishes - Lasagne, Chilli, Spag Bol, burgers, meatballs.  Occasionally I try again, some dishes really need the beef mince, but the same problem remains.  It smells foul and it tastes awful.   My husband has suggested today that I buy a piece of steak and mince it myself and try cooking it to see if it's just one of my oddities or if there is more to it than meets the eye. 

So - whose fault is it ultimately?  Is it the supermarkets for putting profit over quality?  Is it the consumer for wanting more and more bang for their buck?  A combination of both?  I don't know.  All I do know is that it's going to change the way we eat forever.   I think people will start cooking from scratch more.  I think we'll start using a proper butcher again.  I think a lot of people will cut down on the amount of meat in their diets, buying less but more expensive and better quality meats, and quite possibly a lot of people will turn vegetarian.

What do you think of the whole sorry mess?  Has it affected you in any way?  Will it change the way you cook and eat, or do you think it's a fuss over nothing?  Let me know :-)


  1. I am 100% with you on News is depressing ! What an awful feeling when you get turned off a certain "smell".

    1. Glad it's not just me! If the world put as much focus on positivity and good things as we did on the news, I can't imagine how wonderful the world would be :-)

      I just don't know what it is, I'm sure it can happen for no reason, but it just seems odd to me? Especially when it's a meat that I love the smell of cooking in any other given way. If it's really steak mince, then... shouldn't it smell like steak when it cooks? Maybe it's just me ;-)


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