Tuesday, February 26, 2013

To all that controversy about horse meat: Bah, horse shit!

So, traces of horse meat were detected in IKEA's consumer favorite meatballs.  And this adds to other horse meat news.

This is not scandalous by any means.  Go home and rest easy.

I agree with the New York Times' food writer, Mark Bittman, that in our age of industrial food, when we don't have a clue what is in a burger nor in the hummus, hey, are you sure you know what exactly you are eating unless you are cooking it yourself?

Now, people might complain that they should be informed first, and then they can decide for themselves if they want to buy meatballs with or without horse meat.  Well, maybe.  I suspect it became a big issue only because of the initial story of horse meat:
The scandal first erupted last month after Irish authorities tested suspiciously cheap frozen beef patties and discovered they contained horse DNA.
That's right: suspicion because the patties were cheap.  If they had sold it at a higher price, it might have never triggered any suspicions?

But, money fraud or not, people are more upset, I would think, because it is horse meat.

Think about it for an additional second: this is not a vegetarian complaining.
 This is not a PETA issue.  To the vegetarian this is a non-story.  These are customers who already eat meat.  Cow is ok, but horse is not?  Chicken is ok, but horse is not?

The revolt is psychological to the idea of eating horse meat.  Mark Bittman says that the taste of horse is not all that different from beef.  But, people get freaked out because it is horse not cow.  Now, that is the logic that I don't get.

Let me explain.  A long, long time ago, even up until my first year in the US, I had been only an egg-eating vegetarian.  No chicken, no beef, no fish, no nothing.  Through all those years, I could never understand why some of my classmates were ok with eating chicken or fish but not cow.  Once you cross that divide, then what gives?

Over the years, I haven't experimented much with animals.  If I have enough healthy and tasty vegetarian options, then I can easily be animal-free.  No big deal.

I am still curious about the habits of those who insist on meat in their daily diets.  Typically, when we discuss population and food supply, when students leap into conclusions that we won't have enough food, many times I have asked them what food they refer to.  And then I ask them if they will be ok eating dogs. Or insects. How about worms? Why not rats?

As animals, we humans now selectively eat or don't eat other animals not because of biological reasons.  It is a result of our respective cultural environments.  Some cultures are ok with eating dogs, while here we might be aghast at the very idea.  Even now, plenty of cultures eat insects and worms.

Traditionally, humans's food intake was governed by the ecosystem of which they were a part.  One of the reasons we have a feeling of global food shortage--a feeling--is that we now force alien food habits on traditions.  In cultures that once ate dog meat, external influences, especially colonizers, made it taboo.  We look down on those who eat insects or rats as uncivilized humans.  As if eating pizza is the hallmark of being civilized.  Horse shit, I say!

In fact, we can easily make an argument that if only cultures had continued along with their habits, well, we will have a lot more diverse food consumption than we currently do, and that will be a wonderful insurance against food shortage as well.  If everybody can only eat rice, wheat, or corn, and chicken, beef, and fish, then, yes, we could easily have shortages.

People eating horse meat is not anything new, as this Wikipedia entry notes.  Yes, truth in advertising is required so that consumers can avoid it if they so felt.  But, hey, of all the urgent issues on this planet that deserve our attention, horse meat in IKEA meatballs shouldn't even register a blip.  If only we had any horse sense!


Ramesh said...

Oh - every one makes choices on food. To a Jain who does not eat any vegetable growing underground, a vegetarian like me must be as scandalous as a horse meat eater.

To each his own, on food, I say. I am not aghast for example at what Cantonese eat (anything) and neither am I condescending towards those who even refuse to touch an onion.

Sriram Khé said...

Exactly ...
I tell ya, the world will be a much better place if only people listened to you and me ;)