William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

My Little Pony in the spaghetti bolognese

It started in the United Kingdom, spread to South Africa, and has just hit America. It’s a wave of popular revulsion at finding that some of those tasty beef products from the local supermarket are actually stuffed with horsemeat.

There have been arrests and high-level food agency investigations. Stores have withdrawn entire lines of burgers, kebabs, meatballs, and ready-made meals of spaghetti bolognese and lasagna. Consumers are shying away from products that used to gallop off the shelves, while this week food group executives took turns at whinnying apologetically before a British parliamentary committee.

Malcolm Walker, the chief executive of UK frozen food chain Iceland, is one of the few to come out swinging. He defended the failure of the food industry to test for horsemeat, saying: Why should we? We don’t check for hedgehog either.

In South Africa, even some game biltong has been found to be desiccating under false colours. As if what originated as survival rations and is made by stringing raw, heavily salted meat from hooks — swarming flies kept at bay as best possible — could possibly be much damaged in reputation.

Most of the reaction, in Britain at least, is not a justified response to fraudulent mislabelling. It is a visceral antipathy to consuming horse flesh, that noble beast that has been elevated to iconic status over aeons.

It is fuelled to some degree, no doubt, by the pre-pubescent outrage of literally hundreds of thousands of young girls who since the first bedtime reading of Black Beauty have dreamed of a live pony at the bottom of the garden. Now only to find that My Little Pony is routinely part of their school dinners.

This Anglo-Saxon disgust must all be somewhat befuddling to continental Europe, especially those pretentious epicureans, the French, who have been tucking into their recently demised gee-gees since time immemorial. Also to the Asian sub-continent, where anything that walks, slithers or flies — endangered rhino, cute little puppy — is viewed as just another delectable yum-yum to be slitted, sliced, diced, masticated and swallowed.

The Anglophone distress is unthinking, somewhat irrational and entirely hypocritical.

To start with, anyone who is surprised at the content of processed ”meat”, or meat not minced before their very eyes, is an idiot. They should be force-fed entrails, giblets, claws, beaks, offal, genitalia, ears tails and artificial filler, until they pass out from nausea. For that, in reality, is what they are already eating.

As an aside to the faithful who trust blindly in kosher or halaal labels … well, the less said the better. Credulous is the kindest word that springs to mind.

Iceland’s Walker explained the reasons behind the horsemeat scandal quite simply: it’s a supply and demand equation. The catering industry wants the cheapest possible ingredients for the schools, hospitals and prisons it supplies, so it ends up sourcing dubious stuff that everyone, until now, has turned a blind eye to.

While horses are intelligent, majestic, social creatures deserving of our respect, that is true also, to varying degrees, of sheep, cows and pigs. It is ethically anomalous, although depressingly human, that we are sublimely indifferent to the slaughter of one animal, but furious at the killing of another that we, somewhat emotionally and arbitrarily, place on a higher, closer plane.

All that should logically be at issue for the sensitive carnivore, aside from not liking the taste, is that the animal — be it rabbit, dog, horse, kudu or cow — is killed as humanely as is possible. For that to happen is, in itself, rare enough that this is actually the issue that we should be fretting about.

But if it is any consolation, I have it from the horse’s mouth that once butchered — turned into what the racing industry deems ”wastage” merely because they were injured or slow — it doesn’t matter much to those magnificent animals whether they end up as pet food for Fido or in your No Name Brand burger.

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