I think I first ate a horse steak when I was a teenager. It was a ski trip. I got my French translation a bit muddled up, I thought I was ordering a shoe.
Horse meat has never been top of my culinary pops but, when you think about it, it is easy to defend eating it, particularly retired race horses, on both moral and environmental grounds.
What a wonderfully versatile animal the horse is. When the planet was last sustainable, horses provided almost all of the transport and cultivation power on farms. Not only can they turn nitrogen-fixing crops, like clover, into energy but they can be completely recycled when they come to the end of their life. You can’t make a tasty meat ball from a decommisioned photo voltaic panel no matter how you flavour the ragu.
Anyway. I’ve written a Farmers Weekly column on the subect next week (plenty of LOLs but hopefully I have avoided all the obvious jokes on the subject, there is nothing about Chepstow or horse radish although Jimmy Savile gets a mention)
I get the impression that a lot of people aren’t that bothered about whether they eat horse or beef anyway. There are those who think that we shouldn’t eat dogs or horses because they are our friends and that they appear to be more human. That’s illogical. I know people with less personality and worse table manners than my dog but I wouldn’t suggest that we eat them.
This horse meat scandal is a question of principle and not DNA. It is simply an issue of trust and honesty. Oh, and carcinogenic drugs used on animals not destined for the food chain.
In some ways this whole episode has been very healthy because it has encoraged us to think about our canivorous habits and how we feel about them. It has made us think about our food supply chain. It has also shown everyone how badly the supermarkets have let down their British beef farmers. They have demanded high standards from British farmers for their fresh meat and then stocked cheap, unknown products elsewhere as competition.
I have been wrong to defend supermarkets in the past. Just how slack were their technical systems when they procured processed meat? They were own brand products, for goodness sake. I didn’t believe that the retailers could be guilty of such hypocrisy and I will feel enraged every time that a retailer pleads total ignorance and uses a supplier as a scapegoat. This said, a few of these meat processors look very, very shady characters indeed.
The NFU’s new campaign, launched this weekend, is timely and I hope it is a success. It’s a little opportunistic obviously; ultimately virtually all farmers and consumers are all linked into the same centralised food system in one way or another, but it is right to shout about the basic safeguards that British farm assurance provides for consumers.
I hope that this news story drives consumers back to local butchers. There isn’t a bad butcher’s shop in Britain (unless you are a vegetarian in which case there isn’t a good butcher’s shop in Britain). Butchers have had to be excellent in order to survive the last couple of decades and, for places that essentially sell dead bodies, they are mostly very cheery and life affirming places. It is very rare that I pass a butcher’s shop without tasting their sausage roll, this is how I keep my amazing figure line.
The only problem is that we shut most of the small abbatoirs. Some butchers now buy in their meat already cut. In the name of convenience, food safety, hygiene and lower prices society has killed the system that once provided us with the transparency, traceability and connection that we now crave.
There are more people than you think with blood on their hands.