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The British are rather picky about their scandals

We would rather be outraged by Catholics and horses than by state institutions

By on Monday, 18 February 2013

Horse meat found in beef products

When I was in Sicily last month I made a point of eating all the local delicacies including polpette di cavallo – that is meatballs made out of horsemeat. I have eaten horsemeat in lots of other places too – in Puglia, in Piedmont, and in Switzerland. Lovely stuff.

Of course the British do not like horsemeat. They associate it with foreigners and foreign ways. Hence the current horsemeat scandal which dominates the media. It seems that this horsemeat being sold as beef has its origins in Romania. Nasty foreign meat is soiling our pure British beef.

But isn’t this the wrong scandal? There is nothing wrong with eating horse as such. Lots of people do it. This is not a horsemeat scandal, it is a labelling scandal: people have falsely labelled horse as beef. This leads one to ask: can we trust anything we read on a label? So let us leave the equine angle to one side, and concentrate on what really matters, namely that there has been a huge conspiracy of deception in the food industry, and that is simply not acceptable, especially given our belief, up to now at least, that all our foods were meticulously labelled.

And there is another scandal too: so many of us in Britain are eating very cheap ready made meals. This points to a depressing fact. We are constantly being told that we must eat healthily, but judging by the volume of sales of such cheap ready made meals, many of us simply cannot afford to eat healthily. This brings back to us, surely, that the biggest problem contemporary Britain faces is still poverty. But that may be a scandal that Britain would rather not face.

It seems we are rather picky with regard to our scandals in Britain. Again and again in the last few days we have had an outpouring of hatred towards the Pope who is accused of complicity in child abuse, with no real hard evidence to justify this. There are clerics who have been complicit, but their names are now forgotten: the German Pope is the one who must bear the blame; after all, he was in the Hitler Youth. If a scandal has a foreign angle to it, that will play well with the xenophobic public. And of all foreigners, Germans are clearly the best for this purpose.

Yet consider the question of the BBC and the NHS, both of which made it possible for Jimmy Savile to abuse maybe hundreds of victims. But of that we now hear nothing.

And what about Stafford hospital? How many people have been sacked, let alone imprisoned, for the culpable neglect of hospital patients? But we had all rather talk about horsemeat. God forbid we should breathe a word of criticism of the NHS or the BBC.

The horsemeat obsession shows us the British media at its worst, dangerously out of touch with reality.

  • GMoon

    It’s not the fact that the meat is foreign, it’s that it is from Romania. I don’t know how safe the food industry is in Romania, but I don’t regard it as being safe. I would have no problem with eating meat from France, Germany or Italy, for example. Please don’t paint us all as xenophobic.

  • Isabella

    People in Asia eat dog, and to the Western mind, this is reprehensible. In the United States, for example, horsemeat isn’t eaten for a few reasons: 1.) Americans find it paradoxically taboo to eat animals considered as pets and companion animals, 2.) a majority of horses sent to slaughter are spent racing horses whose meat is so contaminated with pharmaceuticals and painkillers that the meat is considered unsafe and unfit for human consumption, and so these horses are ground into glue and other household products, and 3.) horses in general are usually treated with enough veterinary meds to kill a human. We’re already facing major human health issues with antibiotic abuse in industrial animal agriculture – we don’t need the added risk of adding more harmful pharma to our food via horsemeat.

    However, I think for many people it’s not necessarily the issue of eating the dog, cat, or the horse itself, but rather the fact that the current horsemeat scandal has revealed the murky underbelly of the pan-European meat supply industry to be one of conspiracy, deception, consumer fraud, and abuse caused by a glaring lack of health, industry and safety regulation. People have also become aware of the conditions in which these animals are bred, raised, traded, abused, and slaughtered, and whatever your views on animal welfare issues, for ethical reasons many consider this practice to be unacceptable.

    As for the “we’re too poor to eat healthy” argument – it actually costs more to feed a family with fast food and ready-made meals than it does to buy vegetables and grains. The Center for Disease Control has done research concluding that the middle classes are the ones suffering the most from fast food-related obesity – not the poor, and Forbes recently published an article showing the costs of DIY cooking versus ready-made meals. The DIY cooking won hands-down, and you don’t have to be Jamie Oliver to boil water, rice or veggies for your family.

    With all due respect, Father, humans tend to be more concerned about our food and its direct connections to our health and well-being than stories about the Pope and the Church’s sex scandals – which may be titillating, but quite frankly don’t necessarily have the personal impact of, say, having your child contract e-coli and suffering a horrible death from eating a contaminated pork-horse sausage processed in an unregulated filthy Romanian/Polish/French/Wherever abbatoir.

    In any case, the saddest part of the horsemeat scandal is the tons and tons of food waste being generated. In a world where more than half the global population is starving to death, we feel privileged enough to throw away food at leisure.