Recently, breaking news revealed that horse meat has been found in the budget beef burgers of some major stores in the UK and Ireland. This resulted in the standard reaction of heavily recycled jokes, disgust and good old fashioned middle class outrage across social media and pubs alike. Once all the smug moral dust had settled, a few lone voices could be heard admitting that actually, they would eat horse meat and that the only misdemeanour that had occurred, as far as they could see, was the fact these retailers hadn’t labelled the goods properly. This raises the question, which animals is it ok to eat?
Food is a very personal matter. As well as keeping us alive, it acts as a social bonding tool, a harmless missile to be thrown across school canteens in rock videos and it divides opinion massively, so it’s no surprise that much emotion surrounds it, especially when it comes to the animal flavour of food.
There are countless pages devoted to veganism, vegetarianism, pesceterianism and even more to the love of bacon (which is the one food known to topple some of the most staunch vegetarians and bring them humbly back to the land of the omnivore). What is “right” to eat essentially boils down to nutrition and I’m not going to lecture you on that – I shall leave that to the doctors, the scientists and the scaremongers at The Daily Mail, but what I do struggle with is the often childish attitude people have towards meat eating.
Veggies and yoghurt weavers, look away now. I eat meat and I am happy to do so. Food with a face tastes delicious and thanks to my upbringing, I have what I consider to be a well informed and mature attitude to scoffing the juicy plump beasts of this earth. I’m not saying everyone should eat meat and I’m not saying you shouldn’t nibble on the creatures that roam the planet, but I am saying that those who choose to eat meat should grow up when it comes to the types of meat they choose to eat.
Some people are happy to eat chicken that has been kept in diabolical conditions and pumped full of chemicals but they balk at the idea of eating a perfectly healthy free range bit of venison, because they cried when they watched Bambi. Just because your food was cute and had long eyelashes shouldn’t make any difference to whether you eat it. Can you honestly give me a solid reason why one animal deserves to be made into a sumptuous steaming hot pie any more than another? Save for the whole endangered species list, I’d go so far as to ask why any creature shouldn’t be on the menu?
People are happy to sit gripped with mock-horror in front of their televisions as once famous celebrities chomp on a kangaroo testicle or slurp down fish eyeballs, but they are horrified when faced with something like organic squirrel pie, or even just meat served on the bone (apparently it looks too “animal-y”. I can’t even begin to tell you how much strength I require to refrain from smashing someone’s chicken nuggets up their nose when I hear this. I deserve some sort of humanitarian award! By the way, a humanitarian isn’t someone who only eats humans, I double checked). These people are the same ones who, ironically, eat pretty much the same as these Z-list jungle-hopping celebrities when they gaily throw burgers, sausages and other processed “meat” products into their pie-holes, not realising that they are in fact gorging on the finest lips, tits and arseholes that ever were swept from the factory floor.
I am happy to scoff, when highly inebriated, a cheap dirty doner kebab, possibly made of cat or bat or rat (depending on what’s in season behind the bins that week) so I’m not perfect, but given the sober choice, I’d rather eat quality whole chunks of healthy beast flesh, and this comes from a very hands-on education. I grew up asking “who” was for dinner, not “what” and this was because all the meat that came to my dinner plate had been lovingly hand-reared by my family. It had been named, it had romped in a field of green and it had been cuddled and cherished into a state of tender deliciousness before making its timely way to the family freezer via the butcher’s block.
I didn’t see this as strange at the time and, while I understand it shocks many to think of eating something that had been named, I don’t see it as strange now. I knew exactly where my pork chop had come from, just what wholesome food it had eaten, how few drugs it was pumped with and I had seen it have a better life than most inner-city children, frolicking freely in fresh air and farmlands before, like the inner-city kids, staring down the business end of a gun. I understood the whole process, including the messy end bit that doesn’t involve the animal peacefully falling asleep (trust me, there is no nice way of making a thing dead) and I understood that the darling fuzzy creature was being home grown solely for the purpose of the Sunday roast, and I thoroughly enjoyed my guilt free home cooked dinner, thank you (and Petunia the pig) very much.
Someone once asked my mother, horrified, how she could eat her “pet” chickens. Mother’s reply, quite brilliantly, was to ask whose chickens this person would eat! This protector-of-hens was all too happy to chow down on a processed abscess burger from a fried chicken restaurant but not on organic, free range happy hens. She, like all criminals, found the crime easier to commit against a faceless victim, and this, I feel is the major problem with the attitude towards meat eating. People are happy to chomp away on meat from critters raised in the most barbaric and depraved manner (again, not unlike those inner-city kids) so long as they don’t have to know anything of the back story, or see a fwuffy ickle wickle face on it. Grow up. If you can’t handle the face, you don’t deserve the delicious, juicy leg, rump or ribs.
This brings us back to the horse meat. Just because when you were a little girl, you used to dream of pony rides and unicorns, doesn’t mean that they aren’t just as deserving of your culinary enjoyment as the bountiful cow or the cloud-like lamb. Our perception is all that prevents us from enjoying the varied diet of the Tudors or Romans, who thought nothing of peacocks, larks, dormice or wenches gracing the platters of the finest dining halls (I may have made that up about the wenches but the rest is true).
It is only that we have focused on the cheaper animals to produce en masse that we regard anything but beef, lamb, pork or chicken (turkeys only exist in December) as inedible. We’ve managed to anthropomorphise any “cute” looking creature into being untouchable and anything that’s a bit ugly, such as the eel (a delicious fish, by the way), is now regarded as practically poisonous! Get over it. If it tastes good and doesn’t have a jockey on it, I’d happily eat a horse steak, and I was that little girl who dreamt of unicorns and who owned a pony.
I’m sure there are going to be a lot of horrified faces out there (if you’ve got this far) and that’s ok. I’m not suggesting that we all start eating our cats, dogs and bunnies but I am suggesting we all grow up and stop being so squeamish, and that if we’re going to eat meat, we discriminate less between species and realise that surely it’s far better to eat a well cared for hamster than it is a factory farmed chicken.
As for the stores that put horse meat in their budget beef burgers, I’m actually more shocked they found meat in the burgers at all.