I’m so hungry I could eat a horse…
In a way we should be grateful for the current horse-meat scandal, shouldn’t we. It has made us think a bit more about the things we do and don’t want to eat and just how much we are prepared to pay for good food. A lot of people have started to question the ethics surrounding this whole meat-eating melee – this dodgy sausage circus, this carnivore’s chaos, if you will… In a rather thought-provoking article on The Making Progress Blues (please see link in the Blog Roll to the right), a fellow blogger raises the interesting point that the horse-meat fiasco was pretty much inevitable following years of consumers demanding more food for less money, supermarkets driving down prices, farmers and local butchers being forced out of business and unregulated overseas providers filling the resulting ‘meat-hole’ in the market (apologies for the unpleasant turn of phrase)… What did we think was going to be in a Super-Cheap’n’Nasty-Value-Discount-Family-Sized-Lasagne costing just £1.78? Wagyu fillet steak?
Blogging pals of mine in mainland Europe (namely Englishman in Italy http://englishmaninitaly.wordpress.com/ and Multifarious Meanderings http://multifariousmeanderings.wordpress.com/ ) have written about the fact that in Italy and France horse-meat is considered to be tastier and healthier than beef; Europeans are confused and amused by the British media meltdown. Well, yes. But there is of course the moral and legal issue of the misleading labelling, and the problem that potentially dangerous chemicals and hormones could have found their way into our foods through this criminal cost-cutting…
The meat we choose to eat is an emotive issue. The European media have been mocking our pathetically sentimental horror of horse-meat. And let’s be honest (my frequent references to The Wind in the Willows notwithstanding) the British do tend to anthropomorphise any hapless creature that is friendly, appealing or vaguely domesticated. Just look at Jedward.
Horses are of course integral to British rural life and our relationship with them is a long and loyal one. The coat of arms for Kent, my home county, features a prancing white horse above the motto INVICTA (undefeated or unconquered); there are several huge horses carved into the ancient chalk of England’s hills; Shakespeare’s Richard III was prepared to give his “kingdom for a horse”. From Boxer’s tragic death in Animal Farm through to Michael Morpurgo’s wonderful War Horse, our equine friends are usually portrayed in literature as noble, intelligent, faithful, beautiful creatures of great worth. But the symbolism of horses in English literature is sometimes a bit more sinister… In a weird little scene that is often cut from performances of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, shortly after the bloody murder of Duncan, it is reported that the King’s horses have become cannibalistic:
ROSS: Duncan’s horses, a thing most strange and certain,
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ‘gainst obedience as they would
Make war with mankind.
OLD MAN: ‘Tis said, they eat each other.
ROSS: They did so, to th’amazement of mine eyes
That looked upon’t.
Well, it’s all a far cry from My Friend Flicka, isn’t it. British writers seem to be interested in using horses to portray mankind’s darker side – our fear, our cruel and violent instincts, our madness: have a look at Peter Shaffer’s Equus or The Rain Horse by Ted Hughes… There must indeed be a strange and complex connection between horses and the British psyche; these disturbing tales just wouldn’t work if they were about goats. Or pigs.
What about pigs, I hear you cry? Pigs are clever creatures too – just a bit more… comical. Following a childhood obsession with E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Dick King Smith’s The Sheep-Pig, one might have thought that I’d never be able to stomach a bacon sandwich. Believe me, one couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course, bacon can be a bit tricky to lay one’s greedy hands on over here. As it’s a Muslim country, few restaurants serve it and most shops don’t sell it; those that do are legally obliged to set aside a separate, secret part of the store as the ‘Pork Room’. I get a ridiculous little thrill as I wheel my trolley through the plastic curtains of a clandestine pork emporium.
We have a fascinating mixture of cultures here in the UAE, and a correspondingly fascinating variety of meats available… A restaurant in the older part of town near the Creek serves camel burgers (which I imagine to be a bit tough and goaty… They may well be delicious of course. One day I will eat one and will tell you all about it. I promise), and the unexpected selection of body parts for sale in my nearby Lulu’s Hypermarket never fails to astound me. Their fridges frequently feature delicacies such as lamb’s testicles, cow’s feet, and sheep or goat brain. And people actually buy them. Willingly! Their mouths watering with anticipation! (I expect.) As you can see in this photograph – the brains are quite reasonably priced (10.80 AED is about £1.93) and could probably feed a large family… Hmmm. Perhaps the UK supermarkets should have a change of direction and start stocking some of these honestly labelled unusual animal bits, rather than persisting with their deceitful discount brands and flogging the proverbial (and not so proverbial) dead horse.
Little did I know when I photographed this sheep brain that the moment was more than just a meeting of minds: at a Pakistani restaurant last night, this brain and I had a date with destiny (and a rather nice daal)… Tune in next week to read about my encounter with The Sheep-Brain Curry.