The people of Europe are growing hoarse. In the past month there’s been much whinnying about the adulteration of processed food. The media – old nag – is chomping at the bit. Politicians are staggered. The food industry has been nobbled. The public’s disgust is unbridled. The whole mess is stickier than a glue factory. Bored of this extended pun? Me too.
The consternation about horsemeat masquerading as beef is off target. There is a criminal mastermind out there somewhere who knows how to make labels. That’s pretty much it. Whoever is behind it should be found and prosecuted. If there’s horse tranquilizer, or whatever it is, in the human food chain, so much the worse. But it seems to me that most of the complaints aren’t about these things. They’re about the thought of eating horse.
Nobody, to my knowledge, has complained about the taste. Thousands of people have consumed what they presumed to be beef dinners – burgers, lasagnes, etc. – and so far as I can tell not one person noticed that the thing sticking to their MSG-encrusted palate wasn’t what it purported to be. This is just as you’d expect. After all, if you’re buying frozen processed meals one might assume you’d eat anything, without too much of a care for what it is. But the after knowledge that said processed lump might have been a Romanian cart horse has produced a cacophony of self-conscious hacking (no pun intended this time), at least in the UK. Why?
The French know
Culturally, we do not eat horse. This is somehow ironically indicated by the popular refrain, ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a horse’, which is now presumably in decline. Why we do not eat horse (unlike the French, and many other nations) is a mystery as enigmatic as the dietetics of Leviticus: horses are noble (they aren’t, but several hundred years’ worth of being held up as aristocratic mirrors has cemented the quality); horses are intelligent (pigs, anyone?); horses are working animals, not food animals (oxen are different why?). There is no explanation that does not ultimately rest on some anthropocentric, and anthropomorphic, conceit. The image, for example, of a graceful hunter, topped by an exemplar of virility in hunting pink, does not translate easily to the recipe pages of the national cuisine (and we don’t eat fox either, for similarly confounding reasons).
If we could just stop tripping over each other in our bid to be more appalled than the next, there’s surely an opportunity here. The criminal mind has shown the way. If horse meat is so much cheaper than cow that it’s worth risking an international scandal to make a few bucks on the sly, then some enterprising knacker ought to try a national marketing campaign to sell horse for what it is. ‘Times are tough. Beef is expensive. Why not be a little daring? And in any case, you’ll never taste the difference’.