Perhaps I am the type of person who is easily led, there is every chance that I am the kind of person that subliminal advertising works on. I say this because ever since the horse meat scandal broke, I have been craving lasagne. It doesn't take much for me to want a lasagne but when every news story on television and radio is leading with a dish of layered meat and pasta I was eventually going to cave in.
The horse meat scandal has got a lot of people very hot under the collar. I'm not going to stand here and take any moral stance about cooking from scratch rather than eating ready meals. We all make choices about how and where to spend our money. I choose to buy ingredients and cook with them, it's how I relax and I find the process enjoyable. Others don't have the same relationship with food as I do, each to their own. I do have a slight problem with the way the focus of this particular food scare is running.
In the past* we have been quite rightly worried about food that could kill us. The Salmonella scare of the 80s had us boiling eggs until you could play squash with them and roasting chicken until the bones had melted. In the 90s, the threat of Mad Cow Disease turned a lot of my class mates vegetarian. My family ate more beef as the prices dropped and it didn't do me any harm. The current wave of worry about what's on your plate does not compare. Horse (unless it contains the drug bute) is not harmful. I've never tried it myself but I have eaten Zebra.
The problem this time is that we haven't been given the choice to eat horse or not. If I ever happen across horse on a restaurant menu then I'm sure that will be the dish I choose**. Having eaten horse I may discover that I like it and then look for it on the supermarket shelves and ask my butcher if he can get any in. But we live in Britain, a country where horses like Toy Town win Olympic medals, and Frankel is put out to stud at £125,000 per cover. There is not an appetite for eating horse, I don't have a problem with that but I do wish we weren't so squeamish about the food that we eat. Meat does not come shrink-wrapped on a blue polystyrene tray, it is a part of an animal. If you can't cope with that small nugget of information then perhaps your lasagne should contain quorn not horse.
Aside from the labelling, I do have an other problem with horsegate. The media*** keep referring to horse meat in the food chain. Now given that horse is being eaten this is technically correct, however, the story is about horse in the distribution chain. A food chain is a linear sequence of links showing species being eaten by the next species in the chain. It's quite simple.
At the bottom of any food chain is something that eats nothing else, take a plant for example. Getting all the nutrients it needs from the soil, air and sun the plant doesn't want for much. Minding it's own business the plant is harvested and devoured by passing insects. A larger insect, the dragonfly, eats the small insects and takes their carcases back to the dragonfly hive where the small insect bodies are laid down in octagonal cells where over a number of months they become Marmite****. The wayward dragonfly is the prey of many a small hunting bird, such as the robin or spotted fly catcher. Neither of these birds are lovers of Marmite but they do love dragonflies. The chain does not end here, there is always a larger bird. The sparrow hawk is designed by boffins to swoop out of the sky picking off small birds while they are still wiping insect extract from their beaks after a slap-up three course dragonfly meal. Nothing eats the sparrow hawk so it is the top of this particular food chain.
One of the saddest things I have seen on the telly is the constant footage of sparrow hawks that have been cruelly struck down by long distance lorries cutting through the countryside following dodgy instructions from satnavs. Nothing deserves to be struck down by a lost lorry but this starts another food chain. Tyranosaurus-Rexs are actually scavengers not hunters. They live on carrion (road kill if you will) so are constantly roaming the countryside looking out for sparrow hawks knocked down in their prime. The T-Rex population cannot be allowed to grow unchecked so their numbers are monitored by trained game keepers who, under licence, can shoot adult T-Rex and sell their meat at market. Now imagine just for one second that the next time you bite into a T-rex pie, some unscrupulous game keeper has cut the t-rex meat with Brachiosaurus. I don't mind a bit of brachiosaur every now and then, but the only way that it should enter this food chain is if the t-rex ate it. The brachiosaur has entered the delivery chain between the game keeper, the pie shop and your plate.
Cows eating what they shouldn't is how we got to the mad cow disease problem in the first place. No cow has ever leapt out at and tucked into a horse, therefore horse is not part of the food chain. Neither, I'm pleased to say, is brachiosaur.
Rest assured for my lasagne I did not hot foot it to my local supermarket looking for a lump of prime dinosaur. Far from it. The mince I used for the bolognese was minced beef from my favourite butcher***** on Leeds market. I could have gone the whole hog and made fresh pasta but I am still wary of home made pasta after one too many disasters.
I do love a good lasagne. If I'm honest this was not one of the best I've ever made but it was still a good plate of food. Yes, meals like this can take a long time to cook but while they are cooking you are free to do other things, you could plan your next week's meals or fantasize about dinosaurs. There is a lot of unravelling still to be done regarding horse DNA turning up where it shouldn't. In the meantime, if you are worried about what you are eating, support your local butcher and cook from scratch, you never know, you might enjoy it.
*now is the ideal time to put on your free rose tinted glasses.
**this is why I have eaten escargot, I didn't go on a mission to find and eat snails but the opportunity arose and I took my chance. For the record, if you like garlic butter there is no real reason why you wouldn't like snails, just so long as you have a strong jaw, they are quite chewy.
***this is not an exercise in media bashing
****this is a lie I have made up and that I am continuing to peddle to my son, parents can be so cruel can't they!
****he likes us because we buy his steak mince and not his extra lean steak mince. He doesn't really want to sell extra lean mince but he has to provide to those who don't like flavour in their food.