Saturday 22 October 2016

Lisa Markwell: You think horsemeat is bad? We eat much much worse already

Published 17/01/2013 | 13:25

Surprise! Your cheap, grey, uniformly textured and anonymously flavoured frozen supermarket burger contains horsemeat. Since it was reported that some supermarket burgers contain horsemeat, there’s been outrage and wisecracking in equal measures (although presumably not from people who eat those burgers).

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Excuse my lack of sympathy – but what did you think they were made of? Frankly, horsemeat is a far more appealing prospect, nutrition-wise, than the mechanically recovered cow bums and lamb nostrils. By now I expect you’ll have heard every horsemeat joke and pun you could imagine… and some you couldn’t, if you’re on Twitter. But once the laughter has subsided, there is a serious point to all this.

I know from friends that have eaten it, that good quality horsemeat is rather like venison – lean, dark and with a good flavour. It’s no accident that in Paris (where cheval has been on menus since forever), the meat is having a renaissance in restaurants like Le Taxi Jaune, thanks to a young chef with big ideas. Then again, I imagine the meat that ended up in the economy burgers was hardly thoroughbred.

Supermarkets – and indeed all food outlets – must label everything they sell correctly and clearly. It’s astonishing that any supermarket would accept a meat product unquestioningly. If they’re getting the components or finished product from a supplier, they can use their oft-touted heavyweight power to demand accurate information. The implications for our health of untraceable, unidentified meat are deeply worrying.

But as important is the disconnect that consumers have, increasingly, between their food and where it comes from. If you buy a circle (or rectangle) of protein cloaked in cellophane, you could almost be forgiven for not connecting it to an animal. Almost.

If you eat meat (and my lifelong-vegetarian colleagues are feeling pretty smug right about now), why is horse less palatable than cow or sheep or pig? It’s no good hiding behind ludicrous ideas that horses are in some way cuter or more intelligent. Or that we have a special relationship with them because we ride them. If horses weren’t herbivores, I can imagine a few that would have no problem biting a lump out of their rider.

The simple truth is that we should be striving to eat recognisable food, from reputable providers and with a sense of responsibility from whence it came. I’m all for horse – perhaps one of those enterprising, oh-so-trendy haute burger bars should seize the moment and put it on the menu?

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