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February 28, 2013

I eat animals. Not that much. But I enjoy sampling as many different types of animals as I can. Part of that has to do with being an adventurous eater. Another part has to do with a strong belief in the benefits of a varied diet.

Take comfort in the fact that when I come over to your house I’m not eyeing your pets and imagining them on a plate. Unless of course you keep chickens or geese. Because those are some delicious birds.

Meat comes from animals we hire other people to kill on our behalf for the benefit of our sustenance and pleasure. It’s grisly stuff. I think a pig has as much right to live as a horse. And it’s one of the reasons why I believe it’s important to give those doomed animals the best life possible before their final day.

It’s about respect.

Do you want to know what doesn’t have respect for the sanctity of life? A labyrinthine global supply chain that produces effectively flavorless frozen meat patties that can be cobbled together from bits of a thousand carcasses. Now we find out that some of the beef patties produced in this manner are secretly adulterated with horsemeat? I wish I could say that I was shocked or even mildly surprised.

Okay. Show of hands. Who here thinks there’s no way our ground beef in the U.S. is affected?

I’ve got a parable that I’d like to share. Out west there was a taqueria that I would go to all the time. And over the years they made one meaningful change.

It used to be a counter-style assembly-line kind of place. So when you got to the front of the line, you would meet the person who would be making your burrito. Then you would walk down the steam table with them, specifying the flavor of tortilla, the kind of meat, the type of beans, and so on. Then they would wrap it under your watchful eye and hand it off to the cashier. The result was a well crafted burrito, made with care, exactly the way you wanted.

As the restaurant’s popularity grew, it moved across the street into a fancier building, and tried to speed up the production process by making it more efficient. So now you ordered and paid the cashier, and the ticket would pop up in the kitchen. No fewer than three people were now touching each burrito. Maybe they were able to shave a few seconds off the process, but the quality of the burritos deteriorated.

Now instead of being neat they were sloppy. Nobody had any direct responsibility for the final product. The workers lost any connection to the customers. And patrons could never be 100% sure as they were watching the burritos getting made which one was theirs.

Multiply that effect by a million and you have the industrialized meat industry.

So now they are finding horse and pig in products that are labeled 100% ground beef throughout Europe. And they are finding this through DNA testing. I kind of have a hunch that if they expanded their DNA testing to include other animals, they would find them too. Why? Well in South Africa they just found unlabeled water buffalo, goat and donkey in ground beef.

Even on the shelves of better supermarkets like Wegmans are brands of 100% ground beef burgers that are the product of five countries. Count ‘em. Five. Sure, they say they are USDA approved and “inspected” but the USDA is notoriously short of inspectors.

It’s not like the horsemeat is being labeled as horsemeat and then being mixed into the beef. By all accounts this seems like an effort by someone down the supply chain to reap extra profits by selling less expensive horse for more expensive cow. If any of this adulterated beef was shipped to the U.S. how would we find it exactly? We aren’t even testing our own beef supply for BSE and are actively preventing ranchers who want to test their own herds from doing so.

What a mess. Still think there’s no horsemeat posing as beef in some processed food near you? Why? Seriously, I’d love to know.

This is just another great reminder of why it’s important to know where your food comes from. Not because small farmers are angels. But it’s really easy to cut corners when you don’t have to look your ultimate customer in the eye and acknowledge their humanity.

Harry Lime may have said it best from the top of a Ferris wheel in postwar Vienna:

“Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

Don’t be a victim. It’s not easy to opt out of the industrial food system. And you don’t have to do so all at once. Little moves, minor improvements, slight variations, if taken by enough people, can have a serious impact on big business. 

These shenanigans are just another reason for why you might want to give it a try.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2013 11:38 am

    It’s easier to opt out of the industrial food system when you open your eyes to the realities of it; when you start questioning how something got on the shelf at your clean, brightly lit grocery store. It’s sort of like the Matrix, isn’t it?

    I think that living in this area of the country also makes it easier. We don’t have the longest growing season, but we are surrounded by an abundance of produce and livestock farms. We have terrific farmer’s markets and a really good community of people who care about these issues.

  2. RVGB permalink
    February 28, 2013 12:59 pm

    You know what’s even more respectful? Not eating “those doomed animals” at all.

  3. February 28, 2013 1:07 pm

    At times like this, I wonder why it’s such a big deal that people have been eating horse. Okay, it’s good to know what you’re eating, sure — the deception is an issue. But I don’t get the revulsion. The only difference between a horse and a cow is, well, I don’t know, maybe one is cuter. Honestly, though, horse, cow, pig, rabbit… they’re all meat.

    • March 2, 2013 5:31 pm

      @KB, two of my husband’s cousins are both horse rescue advocates, and when I posted about this on my facebook page, one of them responded with this:

      “What the ‘average’ person doesn’t know is a huge protion of horse meat that is from the US is tainted with a medication called “Bute”. It stays in the system forever and not for human consumption. It is clearly labeled. I don’t know the exact % but horses are not raised as livestock in the states, so they are not treated as such and not regulated, so the drugs in their system are untraceable. That horse meat burger you might be eating very likely is tainted with a very harmful drug.”

      So, in her case, it is less about the fact that it is a horse (though she is a vegetarian for ethical reasons, as is her sister), and more about the notation above. However, this goes back to my takeaway from the article, that it is important to know what you’re eating and where it comes from, which is a huge problem in general. For me, my revulsion stems from not what it is per se, but how it got there (greed and carelessness).

      However, your point is well taken, because I know people make faces when I mention I ate goat or venison or duck (for example).

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