Monday, February 25, 2013

A horse is a horse?

Perhaps you've heard the news recently that horse meat has been masquerading as beef all over Europe. Americans took notice when it came out that IKEA's sainted Swedish Meatballs also contained meat from Mr. Ed's ancestors. Well, actually, it turns out the affected meatballs are in Europe, so maybe Red Rum's ancestors. Either way, people thought they were buying cow and instead they got horse and they are pissed.
It seems that pre-packaged, processed foods have been most affected. Have any of the people complaining ever taken a gander at the ingredients list on a frozen lasagna? Horse meat would probably be one of the few decipherable items listed. Consumers buy processed foods for convenience, not taste, and certainly not for nutritional value. Sure, those who grew up eating the best that Stouffer's had to offer often think of it as comfort food and enjoy eating it. But it's all those happy memories of mom rushing home from work and tossing a tray of dinner-food in the oven that leads to enjoyment. The flavors in those boxes are entirely manufactured, mostly salt, and the meat is probably so full of fillers it barely qualifies as flesh. Certainly a little pony is preferable to pink slime.
Aside from the question of quality in affected products, so what if the meat in that burger comes from a cow or a horse? It's still the ground up remains of an animal. The meat hierarchy drops off dramatically after fish. Veal remains controversial despite being simply a younger cow, but the big four reign supreme (in the American supermarket at least). In fact, a visitor to the meat counter at any major chain store would be hard pressed to find a bit of venison, rabbit, or squirrel. Cows, pigs and chickens grow purely with consumption in mind, true. They eat hormones and live short, brutal lives in enclosures designed to limit movement and encourage fattening. Horses typically run or work, which would seem to lead to perhaps stringier muscles. An old soft horse, a brood mare out to pasture, couldn't be that different from a cow. Certainly it's close enough to fool people in Europe and the UK routinely. Consumers ingested horse meat without seeming to notice any difference in taste. It seems silly to get so bent out of shape because the meat of one animal turned out to be the meat of another. Barring cannibalism, all meat is fundamentally the same.
Vegetarians point at stories like this and proselytize their lifestyle, saying they don't have to worry about things like this happening to their food. While that's true, the more important considerations pertain to the origin of food, and the choices made when deciding which meat to eat. Everyone should be aware of what they eat. Omnivores should ask themselves why they draw lines between species. If they are willing to eat one, another should be just as good.

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