Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Horse dung

Posted by Louis Goffe

The horse meat ‘scandal’ has been dressaged by the red tops as a tragedy but for most it’s been a great source of comedy and we’ve been left to ask ourselves whether to eat, or not eat a Findus lasagne, though that is equestrian.

I had a giggle last week when Tesco chose comedy actor Julian Barratt, to front a radio ad apologising on their behalf for the loss of trust caused over the minced mule dishes. An actor made famous by his show The Mighty Boosh, whom once played a character called “The Crack Fox”: a lying, manipulative, power obsessed canid that survived on a diet of cat blood, shampoo and even less desirable items, that tricked its way into peoples’ homes before poisoning them with a noxious substance.

Before one even had chance to whip up one of these night-mare-ish burgers the story had turned from outrage to “what do you expect in a patty that costs you pennies”. Writers and commentators jockeyed with each other to write the most amusing articles and turn the tables on the public. They slopped up the liability for ignorance of the disconnect between food production and what’s on the dinner table into the public’s own bowl. There is little to be concerned with from a health standpoint about consuming a filet of filly. But it’s my hope that the outrage will act more as our feathered friend, the canary in the coal mine, about the wider dangers associated with high consumption of processed food.

The champion stakes, by Paolo Camera 
In the champion stakes to sell the cheapest produce between the thoroughbred supermarkets, the producers are being pushed up against the rails and the odd fence is being missed. But the old nag of blame doing the rounds according to many in the press is currently grazing in the paddock of the consumer. Collectively we should cart some of the responsibility, but the ethical argument needs to be more nuanced. We should assess the nature of each decision along the production chain, are they passive or active, as well as our own choices to put certain food in our mouths, before we attribute culpability.

I’m currently investigating how certain characteristics and demographic variables influence food consumption. Some of my results confirm the obvious: the more we know about food the healthier the choices we make. But beyond this we are starting to see in greater detail the relationship between diet and educational attainment; where those with school qualifications only eat less healthy diets than university graduates. There is more than a healthy serving of snobbery, particularly from the food writers, directed at the consumer. But when education plays such a key role shouldn’t more anger be directed towards the policy makers that have the power to better inform, particularly young minds, about the nutritional qualities of the different food groups?

I have a particular passion and fascination for coffee, to the point that I even enjoy its preparation as a spectator sport! I buy from micro-roasters that specify roast date, bean varietal, farm name and elevation as well as the processing method. I happily pay more for this premium product. As a result of the reduced number of links in the chain from farm to cup, the farmer receives a higher price for his beans and is encouraged to produce a higher quality product and to take greater care of their land. Such obsession with food is taken to the ultimate level by octogenarian, three Michelin starred sushi chef, Jiro - as witnessed in the beautiful documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’. Jiro has a personal relationship with every producer he buys from - from shrimp trader to rice farmer.

I place high value on food, but I’m certainly no Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. My love for coffee isn’t matched elsewhere in the kitchen, and you will see me on occasion scoffing down my old student favourite of chips, beans and cheese in the Baddiley-Clark cafĂ©. We all place a varying degree of value, from functional to sensual, on our food and whisked together with career and family life creates strong pressures on purchasing behaviour. Many are now focused towards an ethical standpoint, such as air miles or organic (frequently conflicting) and others simply want to purchase the best tasting food possible. But the vast majority shop for a combination of cost and convenience. Parents shouldn’t be criticised based on the values of those within the industry and certainly don’t deserve to have potentially hazardous food served up when their main aim is to provide a nutritious meal for their hungry kids.

We need to provide better nutritional education for our kids, particularly the most disadvantaged in society, to encourage them to place a higher value in what they eat and to develop a better understanding of the impact that food has on their body. In tandem we need improved labelling so we can state categorically that each individual is expressing freedom of choice, as opposed to freedom of influence, and hopefully increase our collective odds of consuming healthier food.

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