Do You Know Where Your Sausages Come From?
A personal reflection on the horsemeat scandal from Chloe McGenn (@peskychloe)…
This week, I’ve listened to tales of disgust and woe at eating horsemeat, and while I fully understand the disgust at not knowing it was horse, I’ve still been a bit bewildered.
There are two main reasons for this.
1. It’s still an animal. If you eat meat, why do some people differentiate so much between what meat they will eat and what they won’t? I’m a bit more understanding of not wanting to eat, say, cockroaches, but a horse has four legs, lives on a farm and is furry – is it so different to a cow?
2. You get what you pay for.
It’s this point I’m going to elaborate on for this post. I might start to sound preachy, but I’ll try my best to be measured and fair., and hopefully entertain you with tales of my childhood.
My Dad was a butcher when I was growing up. Every school holiday I would travel with him on his van, delivering meat to people’s homes. The van wasn’t refrigerated as far as I remember, but when he opened the back, it was groaning with meats on shelves, with a chopping board built into a section of the base. A variety of knives hung on one wall, and the main image I have of my dad is him sharpening a knife on a steel, something I still love to watch him do.
I’d go with him to the butcher shop, and wait while he cleaned and prepared meat for the day. I’d watch him take a pig from the freezer onto his table, deftly carve chops, tie Sunday roasting joints with string, and best of all, watching him put the leftover meat into the sausage machine, and tease them out, tying them into bundles of 8.
He’d then load up the van, and we’d go off for a couple of hours on his ’round’. I liked Wednesdays best, because we’d go to ‘The Two Ladies’ and I liked talking to their canary, and another lady who spoiled me rotten with sweets and money. Dad would go to the door, telling me if I could go with him or not, and get the order. He’d then throw open the van door, and start parceling up chops, sausages, pies, or carving something on a special request. If I was allowed to, I carried the meat in a stripy bag to the door, and got the money – if the customer was miserable, I would get back in the front seat (without a seat belt as apparently you were allowed to not wear one if you were a delivery man in the 80s) and start reading again.
Then, slowly, things started changing. Supermarkets started becoming bigger, and there were more of them. From only having one big supermarket in the next village which we only went to at Christmas, there were three or four in our town. The butcher shop Dad worked in got steadily more quiet, and his round became shorter and shorter. From serving families with young children, professional couples and retired people, the only customers became the elderly who found it hard to get out of the house. Dad became more reliant on his sideline of house decorating, and mum started working more hours.
Eventually there was no need for two butchers, so my dad was made redundant and started painting and decorating full time, often for the same customers who stopped buying meat from him. My friend’s dad, who was also a butcher, was made redundant, and went to work in a local baker, which has also gone bankrupt.
As supermarkets grew and grew, price wars started, and this is where the need for cheap meat grew. There’s a great blog about this by thatoscarindia. And everything he says is so perfect there’s no point in me repeating it here. But basically, if people didn’t buy cheap meat, there wouldn’t be a market for it, and there wouldn’t be a need to under cut other people selling it.
Demand for cheaper and cheaper meat means it has been imported, and apparently been contaminated with meats from other animals who we feel bad about eating (see point 1). I’m 99.9% sure none of the meat I’ve eaten is anything other than what I’m told it is, because I look for the farm assured labels, use farm shops, buy local, buy organic and all that jazz. The only ready meals I eat are vegetarian, and only if I really, truly don’t have time to cook.
‘But I can’t afford good meat?’ Well don’t eat meat then. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t want to risk eating horse meat, and you can’t afford organic meat, simply remove meat from your diet. You can’t have it both ways I’m afraid. Cheap meat will always carry the risk of having stuff in it you don’t know about, as well as not tasting as nice. It’s also cheaper to make spaghetti bolognese in batches and freeze it than buy ready meals anyway.
What we do is have really nice meat, when we eat meat, but only eat meat for half of the week. The other half we eat fish or vegetarian (and usually argue about how fish isn’t a non-meat meal), and I imagine we still spend the same as you would do buying economy burgers and Findus ready meals.
I think I’ve probably veered into preaching; I honestly didn’t mean to. Lets get back to the point.
When I was 10 years old, I watched my sausages being prepared – I knew sausages were mainly pig meat, because I saw everything Dad put in, and apart from seasoning and a little rusk, it was stuff I saw him cut off a pig. Now I’m 37 and I still know what’s in my sausages, because I look at the labels, and care about where the meat is from. If I don’t have much money one month, I won’t reach for the economy sausages which cost 99p for 8, I’ll get vegetarian sausages from the freezer, or I might just make pasta instead.
Eating cheap meat instead of the nicer stuff is like buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag and the strap breaks, or a bootleg DVD and there are silhouettes of people walking in front of the screen. If you can’t afford the real thing, don’t be surprised by the quality if you scrimp.Tags: food, horse meat, independents