Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Horse meat burgers. Or why I think the animal isn't the issue

I woke up this morning to a flurry of snow and news headlines centreing around equine DNA being found in Tesco hamburgers. Tesco weren't the only supermarket selling these products but they seem to be the one to have made the headlines the most.

As I listened to the news, followed my twitter feed and checked the headlines, a few thoughts were running through my mind. Over the day these thoughts have cemented themselves into hopefully what will be a coherent, non ranty post.

As an omnivore I actually have little issue with there being horse meat in the burgers - if cows, sheep, pigs and deer are good enough for humans to eat then why the boundary with horses? If we lived in mainland Europe then this in itself wouldn't make headlines.  The issue here is in not being able to make that choice, after all, who expects to find horse in burgers labelled as beef.

What I have an issue with is the people who have become all high and mighty about those who have consumed these burgers. Comments such as "people should buy their own mince and make burgers then they'd know what was in them" were abounding on twitter this morning. And while I don't and can't disagree with that, it's a fact, yes they would. But, and this is a big but, do we think about the reasons why some have little choice but to purchase products such as Everyday value burgers?

Maybe because they cost £1 for 8? In the last few days Jessops, Blockbuster and HMV have gone into administration. Last weekend Honda cut 800 jobs in Swindon. People are losing their jobs and struggling to support their families all over the country, relying on ever reducing benefits to do so.

So why aren't people buying beef mince and making their own burgers? Very often those relying on processed food do so, not just from a cost perspective, but also from a lack of confidence in their own cooking abilities. This in itself is not unlinked (I would guess) to adults of my generation doing very little actual cooking at school. So if you yourself didn't have a parent with the means or the inclination to teach you to cook, that combined with the economic ???? of the country may mean that you find yourself now struggling.

It's also worth a mention here that if you lack confidence, no recipe in any of my many cookbooks for a burger is going to give you that. I could show anyone how to easily make 8 tasty burgers. I would probably tell them that they would be nearly as cheap as those removed from sale today. I would do this with the best of intentions having forgotten to cost in the oil, the egg or breadcrumbs, any seasoning I used. Now I've not mentioned the cost of the gas and electricity as you need to cook the bought ones anyway but I could be pernickity and think about the cost of having the lights on while you make them. And believe me, whilst I don't talk about it (and although not now) I have been one of the people for whom that is a real concern, one of the people who don't just happen to have herbs in the cupboard or spare eggs in the fridge. Food poverty is a real issue in this country, right now and I think that today's headlines only serve to draw more attention to that.

So there we have the main challenge. If you struggle with cooking but have a disposable income that affords you the higher end/ luxury ranges of burgers then you don't run the risk of unknowingly eating horsemeat or worse. If on the other hand you struggle with cooking but don't have that income, you are left with a much reduced choice and may have ended up eating something you neither thought you had purchased, nor wanted to eat.

Penelope's Pantry is not going to set the world to rights - it would take more than this post to do that. But I don't think that horse DNA is cause to condemn those people who have little option but to buy foods of this type for their families.  It is a warning that actually more needs to be done to support and educate people around the food that they buy and put into their bodies. Finally it demonstrates that supermarkets need to show more respect to those shoppers buying their value ranges.


Wren said...

Well said. I do not buy burgers unless it is BBQ season and that is purely due to lack of skill and confidence in the kitchen. Home Economics lessons were few and far between and my first lesson was how to make a cuppa soup!!

Unfortunately when you are inexperienced and have decided to follow a recipe, you rarely have the ingredients to hand, have to buy them and then they stay in the cupboard unlikely to see the light of day again.

I really wish some of the people on Twitter would read your post Penny x

Jules said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jules said...

Fab post Pen and it v much echoes what I saw on various social media outlets yesterday. To choose where you shop, have access to lots of ingredients as well as having the confidence & knowledge to cook is a privilege. Something many don't realise. Visit your butcher they cry. My local one is only open 10-3 (mon - fri & closes at 1 on a Wed), rubbish opening times if you work.

I recently asked twitter as to their favourite frugal dish for feature I was involved in. Quite a few suggested cuts of meat like trotters and slow cook them. Yeah right, as if someone realistically wants to eat trotters, plus the amount of energy needed to cook it slowly is quite a bit.

I really don't think many "foodies" know the challenges people face at the moment. The main aim of food is fuel/calories. If money is tight the aim is to get as many calories the cheapest way as possible and yes this means you sometimes have to make nutritional sacrifices.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I agree with you 100% here. The incorrect labelling is the most worrying thing - if the label isn't accurate then how do we know there aren't things people are allergic to or have cultural reason not to eat?

The loss of proper school cookery lessons has been a tragedy for the nation. I count myself lucky to have been one of the last age groups to get them before they turned into Business Studies projects about pizza boxes and then disappeared altogether.

Kids love cooking and the food industry remains a huge employer in the UK. Not teaching kids to cook at school is lunacy.

Penny Aylwin said...

Thanks Wren, I appreciate it - keep an eye out for some new, non specific ingredient reliant recipes coming up. Our first cookery lesson was apple crumble but I remember the Home Ec dragon suggesting we use tinned apple?!

Jules, trotters is exactly the kind of thing that bugs me. If something takes all day to cook then you've got the oven on all day. And besides, I don't think I'd want to eat trotters. Our butchers is similar, plus if you don't know what to ask for it can be overwhelming.

Sarah I completely agree, we try to be so careful at Brownies and Guides to respect girls' cultural dietary requirements and this is exactly where we would have been mortified to find we'd slipped up.

I would love to reset up proper cookery lessons for people who wanted to learn how to cook - start with basics that people really want to use.

Wren said...

"I would love to reset up proper cookery lessons for people who wanted to learn how to cook - start with basics that people really want to use. "

Me Me Me!! I'll be your first student!!

Fuss Free Helen said...

It is #stockgate all over again... And is why I am proud to support my food coop rather than get an organic box etc.


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