Saturday, 19 January 2013


The horsemeat-in-burgers scandal (UK news reports 17 January) reminded me of the time I was unwittingly served horse steaks by an Anglophobic medical student in France - she had heard all the frog and snail jokes wafting over the English Channel. She shared an apartment with my French 'sister' and insisted on cooking one evening. The first course was good - tuna and sweetcorn vinaigrette, which I had never tasted before, although the tuna and sweetcorn combo has since become a nasty staple in British sandwich fillings found on supermarket shelves. The second course was fillets of steak, still bleeding. I took a couple of bites, then Brigitte stared at me in triumph: 'Tu aimes les cotes de cheval?' I didn't rise to it, of course. I just carried on eating, and the meat tasted pretty much like beef. I haven't eaten it since though for the same reason I won't eat veal (which is delicious) or lamb: I rode ponies and horses when I was a child and don't like the idea of eating one. They were my friends, and I don't eat my friends... I see the spring lambs in the fields and weep over what is to come to them. This is just sentimental claptrap of course because I eat cows, pigs and chickens, which have a far worse life in industrialised sheds than many horses and lambs, gambolling in the fields and salt-marshes.

What struck me about the reports was the word 'contaminated' because I suspect the horse DNA found in the burgers is far less 'contaminating' than the revolting sludge recovered from meat carcasses that constitutes the ingredients for most supermarket pies, sausages and burgers. Down the street where I lived in Paris was a 'boucher chevaline' which did a good trade with the people in the quatrier..  I walked past the horse's head on the sign every day on my way to the market but bought my 'viande hache' (steak mince) from the general butcher further down. I would never buy supermarket mince - not even Marks & Spencers which purports to be free range or organic. The safest bet is to make home-made burgers with beef from the local butcher, raised and slaughtered locally and ground in the mincer in the butcher's shop. That is the way it used to be in the time of rationing during the Second World War when the British diet was purported to have been then healthiest it has ever been. I remember the mincer and sausage machine at the local butcher near where I grew up, and the grocer slicing huge joints of boiled ham and farm-made cheese. Today, we eat plastic-wrapped  shit. There is no other word for it. There are so many chemical contaminants  and salt and sugar additives in British food, it is hardly surprising that we are the fattest nation in Europe, although the continentals, feeding increasingly the American way, are catching up.

Bottom line: I'd rather eat a bleeding 'cote de cheval' than a Tesco burger or pie.

photo: Richard Faisey