The recent horse meat scandal in Europe has caused an outrage. Consumers, the media and politicians are up in arms at being duped into eating horse meat instead of beef in their humble meat pies and lasagnes. The scandal made some people horrified that they had inadvertently been eating Black Beauty, and then it made some people angry that they were misled into buying and eating a product that was not what was advertised on the packet.
Then it made some people, like me, think about how far removed we are from our food and what is actually in it. We buy food pre-prepared in foil and plastic packaging, nuke it in the microwave for 8 minutes, and eat it unquestioningly, whether that be the truth in the specified ingredients or the nutritional value all in the name of convenience and laziness. Or we stop on the way home from work for a takeaway curry or pad thai without absolutely any information about the ingredients or nutrition. Do we really know what it is we’re eating?
Back in previous generations, eating out was a luxury and was very rarely done except for very special occasions, and ready meals were barely existent. Our grandparents and great-grandparents bought their meat from a butcher that dressed all their meat from whole carcasses. Meat vaguely resembled the animal, such as roasted whole chickens, grilled whole fish, succulent shoulders of lamb, or a juicy slab of steak. If you wanted to eat meat in indescribable ways, such as sausages or pate, you would have probably made it yourself from proper cuts of meat.
Nowadays, we are so far removed from the food production. In Australia, the food standards authority FSANZ requires meat pies to contain a minimum of 25% of meat flesh, which can contain “any attached animal rind, fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels”. That means that there can legally be a lot of gristle and non-meaty bits in your supermarket pie, which probably doesn’t surprise anyone that has ever eaten one. In fact, the Australian consumer group Choice tested supermarket meat pies and found that one supermarket’s home brand meat pies did not meet this minimum 25% meat standard.
The fact that your meat pie could really contain any matter of meat-ish products, including thickeners, vegetable protein, and a crapload of salt, having horse meat in your pie should probably be the least of your worries. And if you had been buying and eating the pies for the last 10 years without any known health issues, and you actually liked the taste, why would the existence of horse meat in your pie keep you from eating it?
Substitution probably happens all over the place without our knowledge since we’re often so removed from the food production process. I’ve even heard of Chinese restaurants substituting beef tenderised with bi-carb soda for the higher priced lamb! And of course we’ve all heard the myth about McDonald’s apple pies containing choko.
If you’re not going to the effort of buying your meat from reputable producers or distributors, and cooking a proper meal that our grandparents would call food, I don’t think that you can really complain about what is going into your food. Instead, I say that you should subscribe to the “ignorance is bliss” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitudes and enjoy the food if it tastes good and doesn’t harm you!
* Image courtesy of abc.net.au