The Meat Scandal – We Are All Dobbin
Sweeney Todd would be cackling in his grave. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who transformed his human victims into meat pies for the benefit of 18th century Londoners, would have enjoyed the thought that meat eaters throughout Europe have been unwitting consumers of horse flesh and perhaps even donkey meat in their burgers and lasagne.
Pony Club members will be grief-stricken in the knowledge that they have most likely dined on the cousins of their pets. Muslims will be outraged to discover that they have eaten pork. And I suspect that the current furore will launch a new generation of vegetarians disgusted at the realisation of just what ends up on their cheap ready meals, and how it got to their plates.
I’m afraid I won’t be among them. For I am guilty of having knowingly eaten all manner of meat that might give the tender-hearted the horrors. Rabbit, reindeer, camel and horsemeat “steak haché”. On a visit to South Africa I once patronised a gruesome restaurant called Carnivore, where muscle-bound Boers in shorts prowled around a fiery grill serving ostrich (very tough), antelope (likewise) and zebra (delicious). Bushmeat, as monkey is euphemistically known as in Africa? No. Consuming other primates feels a bit close to cannibalism for my taste. And dog? I just about survived the zebra confession to my family. I suspect that if I owned up to dining on Rover, an abrupt termination of relations would ensue.
But I’ve no doubt that in extremis I would eat almost anything to stay alive.
The current issue, of course, is not what we eat, but knowing what we eat.
OK, so we now know that bits of other animals get into our beef products, and that our burgers consist of all manner of body parts scraped, mangled and chewed into shapeless red globules of protein.
But do we know where everything else we eat comes from, and how it is produced?
When we buy farmed fish, for example, do we know about the chemicals used in fish farms to keep infection at bay. Do we know how those nice tiger prawns from Thailand and China are farmed? And have we any idea of what chemicals are used to keep our supermarket fruit ripe, and what effect all those additives listed on food packaging have on our bodies? Hell no, until some researcher comes along to tell us that we’ve been poisoned by trans-fats, flavouring agents or artificial sweeteners for all these years.
Nothing new here. Three decades ago I started to develop eczema. It still flares up occasionally. My wife swears that it was a reaction to the steaks we used to eat in Jeddah that came from the place of her birth, Ireland. This was at a time when another scandal brewed up over the extent to which cattle were fed antibiotics both in Ireland and the UK.
So this is what it comes down to. You want cheap food, you accept that you will eat bad stuff from time to time. You hope that the food safety regulators in your country have a good handle on what is going into the food chain, but you’re not surprised at the occasional shock horror revelation.
If you don’t like it, grow your own food – or double your budget and buy only produce with an unimpeachable provenance. Not so easy if you live in a city and have limited means.
Medical science is devoted to keeping us healthy and giving us the opportunity to live longer lives. Nature – human nature in this case – conspires to prevent immortality and limit the best efforts of the scientists. Another example of the self-regulating Gaia at work? Possibly.
One way or another, we all have a bit of Dobbin the faithful workhorse inside us, whether by accident or design. We need to get used to it.