Until a few weeks ago, most members of the British public would have been disgusted by the mere thought of eating horsemeat. Moreover, some might have been offended merely by having been asked the question.
As it turns out, they have been eating horsemeat for a while now. Sold by large supermarkets in packaged meals containing meat labeled as “beef”. And with the heat turned on, the British supermarkets are blaming the French company that packaged the meat, and they in turn, blame the Romanian abattoirs that supplied and labeled the meat.
DNA tests revealed that Tesco’s ‘Every day Value Spaghetti Bologese’ contained 60% horsemeat, whereas Findus Frozen Lasagna contained only horsemeat.
Both products have since been recalled and companies have issued apologies to their consumers. Their defense: they did not know.
But unfortunately this incident is not an isolated one, nor will it be the last one.
A little while ago, meat consumers in California rallied against the use of ‘meat glue’ (transglutaminase). As it turns out meat companies were using this enzyme to ‘glue’ together chunks and scraps of lesser quality meat, and sold it as prime cuts (such as fillet mignon) at top dollar. Their defense: it is not illegal.
Pink slime is another meat by-product that has raised concerns among US meat consumers. It is made by using heat and centrifuges to separate the fat from the lean meat in beef trimmings, and exposing the product to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill any bacteria. It is then used as a filler to ground beef products.
This beef by-product now labeled “lean finely textured beef and “boneless lean beef trimmings” was allegedly first developed to be used in pet food and cooking oil, and later approved for ‘limited’ human consumption. The response: a lawsuit against the network that reported the practice.
The practice of tricking consumers with fake and sometimes even lethal ingredients is not new. It dates back centuries. In the late 1700’s British beer drinkers were fed Cocculus indicus, a convulsive poison and powerful narcotic to hide the fact that unscrupulous brewers were shortchanging beer drinkers on malt and hops.
It is my view that the volume, scope and frequency of food adulteration will increase rapidly in the near future. It has become deeply imbedded in the modern, industrial food culture. Everyone who is part of this system is to blame. The producers, for cheating and being less than honest about where they source their ingredients from and what they add to them.
The retailers, and supermarkets specifically, for not monitoring their sources sufficiently, and their detrimental effects on small producers and community retailers. Most governments always seem one step behind, and often fall victim to the lure of golden carrots (no pun intended) offered to them by powerful interest brokers. And finally, the consumer is to blame too – for granting total strangers in pursuit of profit control over their food and health.
The core of the problem lies in the food we buy, how we buy it and the extensive supply chain that separates us from our food sources. Let us ponder for a minute the case of Tesco’s, ‘Every day Value Spaghetti Bologese’.
The product is sold in Britain but manufactured and packaged in France. The meat, so Tesco claims, was supposed to be sourced from Ireland, but instead (and allegedly without them knowing), it came from Romania. Oh, and they honestly thought it was beef, not horse. Four countries and one pack of manufactured spaghetti. No wonder there isn’t any control.
The rise of supermarkets led to the pooling of buying power, and with their control they are bullying suppliers with price and excessive demands. This creates the incentive among suppliers to cheat, be less than honest and break the rules. Deliver horse instead of beef, or minced meat filled with pink slime.
The odds are in favour of the supermarkets. No wonder a local supermarket sells venison at ten times the price you’d pay if you did the hunting yourself.
The modern lifestyle we so readily embrace shapes the way we buy food. Convenience and speed are what we look for. We do not cook with fresh ingredients, and we prefer heating-up instead of cooking from scratch. For heaven’s sake, why would anyone want to buy spaghetti Bolognese or lasagna when these it so easy, cheap and quick to make? The point is, as long as we buy these packaged meals we’re encouraging food fraudsters.
The solution is simple really; it is the commitment that is the problem. Cook and grow your own food. Or buy from the independent baker, butcher and green grocer. But cook using fresh ingredients. Then you do not have to worry about horsemeat, Sudan Red, meat glue, or whatever adulterous material they will think of next.
And do not for a minute think this problem is far removed from our beloved little African enclave. Remember the issue of kangaroo meat in the school feeding programme? Just recently a friend (who suffers from a serious seafood allergy) had to be taken to hospital when she ate what she thought was crocodile. Instead what she got was crocodile with fish filler. Turns out, the restaurant (located at the coast) was low on crocodile. Ag, nee sies man!
Take control over your food and in doing so, you’ll have control over your health.
This week’s recipe is an Italian classic and will take you no longer to make than to go and buy and prepare a packaged meal.
It contains no pink slime or meat glue. In fact, it contains only fresh vegetables (I thought after reading this you may want to go slow on the meat for awhile), some cheese and a handful of breadcrumbs.
Melanzane alla Mozzarella (Aubergine with Mozzarella). Traditionally this is made with parmesan cheese, but I have used Mozzarella, cause the guy down the road is always complaining that he can’t find parmesan, and thus cannot cook my Italian-inspired recipes. You could off-course use Parmesan.