February 15, 2013 5:08 pm

Horses for (main) courses

There’s nothing like a good food scare to send angsty parents scurrying back to the natural food counter
An illustration of a man finding a horseshoe in his hamburger by Lucas Varela©Lucas Varela

This horsemeat business could not have come at a worse time. I’d only just managed to wean the family off our organics habit that was aggressively inflating the grocery bills; now we are being thrown back into the arms of the compost crowd. There’s nothing like a good food scare to send angsty, middle-class parents scurrying back to the natural food counter.

It isn’t the thought of eating horse that troubles me. Unlike many, I’m not innately revolted by the idea. I don’t much care that my Findus lasagne is stuffed with stallion, but we do worry if the equine isn’t a thoroughbred. You can imagine the conversation at our table: “Did you hear darling, there’s horsemeat in our spag bol … and it’s not even free range.”

The provenance of the horsemeat is also a central issue. Some say it comes from Romania, where horses are disguising themselves as lasagne in order to beat our stricter immigration rules. Customs officials warn that when the UK lifts restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, we could face a wave of eastern European lasagne surging into the country.

What really troubles us, of course, is less the presence of horse than the notion that no one has the slightest idea what is being put in our food. For sure, anyone buying an ultra-cheap processed meal is not expecting high-end meat. We spend that bit extra for the supermarket luxury range, so are guaranteed at least finest Appaloosa or Arabian in our beef lasagne. But even so, you worry that a touch of carthorse might sneak in.

So anyway, we are heading back towards the organics. It was the coincidence of the BSE scare and the arrival of our firstborn that originally pushed us into purchasing not only organic meat and dairy but anything that had the dirty, shrivelled look that you only get with the purest food. To hell with clean, shiny carrots; if there wasn’t at least a trace of dung on them, we just weren’t interested.

It seemed desperately important to ensure only the finest ingredients went into our growing lad. Had we known he’d become the ambassador to Burger King by the time he hit 12, we probably could have saved ourselves a fortune. Seriously, you feel such a chump adding hundreds of pounds to your grocery bill a year stocking up with Yeo Valley and HiPP Organic, only to watch him saunter off to KFC as soon as he’s old enough to make his own lunch choices.

It felt like we were being played for suckers by the very supermarkets that were selling the stuff we were paying more to avoid. Organics looked a lot like price segmentation and a way for grocers to squeeze a few more pounds out of nervy parents. If it was, I have to say they played a blinder with us. We were so sucked into the cult that even the guinea pigs ate organic. But as the kids grew up we began to scale back, realising that perhaps we had bought into the concept a little too deeply. There may still be DNA traces of organic meat and milk in our fridge, but the organic ketchup now seems a touch obsessive.

Now, thanks to some unscrupulous horse-knackerers, we’re living The Good Life once more. Hello again, Duchy Originals mince, guaranteed to have been ground in person by the Prince of Wales and six equerries. Welcome back, Seeds of Change Organic Pasta and Tideford basil pesto, organic onions, organic leeks, organic watermelon detangling shampoo – and all this health and goodness for little more than the cost of a long weekend in Venice. Never mind that past food scares have turned out to be just that; from the preposterous “Frankenstein Foods” row over GM food (why not vampire vittles?) to the more understandable but still less-than-pandemic mad cow panic. When even the reputable manufacturers and vendors can’t tell you what’s in the food, over-priced organic suddenly looks like a sane option once more.

Purity is again our watchword. Our bodies are temples and we are worshipping them. You don’t happen to know if there’s an organic Mars bar range by any chance?

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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