Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A Horse! A Horse! My Findus Is A Horse!

Although I was barely out of nappies at the time,  I remember the phrase "Where's the beef?" (in other words: Where's the substance of your policies?) being used by Walter Mondale's campaign in the primaries  to become the Democratic candidate for the 1984 US presidential elections. As we all know, it was the more memorable Republican Ronald Reagan who won the elections for US President but it was the phrase that stuck in my memory.

The history of the phrase, part of an advertising campaign for Wendy's hamburger restaurants, can be found here.

Sadly, thirty years on this slogan has crossed the Atlantic to haunt our supermarket aisles. In so much frozen food, where indeed is the beef? The greatest quantity of beefing, in my opinion, should be among consumers concerning how horsemeat has got into so many precooked  frozen products. We have yet to see if "fresh" products such as mince (ground beef) are affected too. Have a look at this Wikipedia entry on pink slime - a rather nasty beef (horse?)-based additive.  Here is an extact from the article (my bold and underlining):

In 2001, The United States approved the product for limited human consumption and had now begun to be used as a food additive to ground beef and beef-based processed meats as a filler at a ratio of usually no more than 25 percent of any product. The production process uses heat in centrifuges to separate the fat from the meat in beef trimmings. The resulting product is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria.
The product is sold in the U.S. to food companies which use it as a filler product in ground beef production. It was reported in March 2012 that approximately 70 percent of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets contained the additive at that time.

For a long time now there has been a lot of breast-beating over the death of the local High Street and the rise of the out-of-town shopping parks. I know that the expense of city centre parking is a great concern, but if there ever was a time when we should be thinking about shopping locally, that time is now. At our local butcher's we can actually see the part of the animal that we are buying and our mince will be minced in front of us. Perhaps we also need not only  to watch cooking programmes, but actually get back into the kitchen and cook.   

As yet here in Spain there seems to be very little reaction to what is going on in the Pan-European frozen food industry, even though the chains probably sell the same products as in GB but with different labels and packs. Perhaps people and supermarkets here are not so concerned because pre-cooked meals here are not the norm. Everyone here cooks every day and food in the freezer  tends to be mostly home-frozen food.

Real tomatoes from Los Palacios, almost as good as
the famous Worthing tomatoes.
Then there is the vegetarian option. I am a carnivore, red in tooth and claw, but is vegetarianism is a serious option for those who really want to be sure that what they eat is really what it is supposed to be? Obviously we can debate organic and non-organic farming, the use of pesticides etc. etc. etc. until the cows (horses?) come home. I only have this to say: I once did some work for a chemicals company that produced certified organic plant foods, de-stressors and other products. Some could even guarantee a certain shape and diameter of tomato! This only goes to show that our food  can be manipulated, whatever we decide to buy and eat.

What is the solution? Be an active consumer. Pick and choose, don't just pick up the nearest shrink-wrapped tray of "fresh" food. Shop locally. Buy your meat from a local butcher. "Ugly" fruit and veg will tend to be real, taste better and be cheaper. Tomatoes grown in Los Palacios, near Seville, for example, tend to be large, irregular and sometimes scarred, but they taste delicious - real. Not like the red bags of water to be bought in the supermarkets.
Image from

Ever since we came down from the trees, man has always hoodwinked and abused his fellows. This is nothing new. For example, bread in 19th-century Britain was adulterated with ground bones and chalk - perhaps it still is in smaller, unscrupulous bakeries. This is the latest in a long line of deceptions and will definitely not be the last. Three months from now we will be scandalised by something else. I believe that intellectuals call this the human condition.


  1. As a vegetarian, I could be complacent about the current scandal involving meat and all the others that pop up from time to time. I am not, however, partly because, as you mention, at least some vegetarian foods can be messed about with in ways we would not like if we knew about them, and partly because vegetarian or not, I get my food from the same food industry as everyone else and what affects one sector of that industry will cause ripples in all the others.

    One thing that concerns me in this case is the repeated statement that the presence of horse meat in beef products indicates "criminal activity". This criminal activity has been detected only because horse meat can be distinguished from beef and the interloper detected. How do we know that less easily detected "criminal activity" is not affecting the whole food supply industry? For example, the presence of condemned beef in beef lasagne would not be as detectable as horse meat is.

    The horse meat scandal may in fact be an indication of widespread "criminal activity" in the food industry.

  2. I couldn't agree more with everything that you say.

    My contention, in all of my more serious posts, is that whatever we believe we still live in a feudal society. Granted the standard of living of even the lowliest members of society has increased beyond measure. However, for those at the apex of the pyramid, it is infinitely better and always will be so.

    This is no conspiracy theory I hasten to add. If people like the late Steve Jobs become billionaires through insight and creativity, I applaud them. the whole process is merely human nature. Nowadays the scramble to the top may not be restricted only to the nobility, but there is still a marked oligarchy.

    We at the bottom still have to pay our tithes to our lords in the form of taxes and bills. "Democracy" is nothing more than a bloodless way of changing one set of robber barons for another, yet it is infinitely better than any other method. We should not, however, fall into the trap that we have any real choices. Most of us have a set menu from which we can choose our fare from a very restricted offer while others dine à la carte.

    What I am really interested in is our ability as individuals to choose our friends, to love our families and to live according to our own values - hoping that this means that we act in the best possible way towards the greatest number of people. This is the only real choice that we have.

    Dog eat dog is the human condition. We will never change it. Passivity or at least, non-confrontational opposition(i.e. buy locally and make the home a much more central part of our life) is the only option for the great majority of us. We should however be aware that whatever we do, it only causes a momentary ripple in a stormy sea. Not letting the sea rage - or seep - into our own small domestic teacup is the best we can hope for.