Sunday 3 February 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

What did you have for dinner last night? Sorry, I don’t mean to pry but I was just wondering if, perhaps, you had one of those succulent breaded chicken goujons that are on sale at my local Tesco’s. Or maybe you had a Chinese takeaway, or was it an Indian instead? And did you stop to think, whilst gobbling down that greasy chicken thigh, that the amount of rained-on “Missing” posters with photos of happy-looking pets has increased lately in your neck of the woods? In fact, where’s Tabby these days? And Spotty? Have you ever wondered what’s really inside our dinner?

What was surprising about the recent food scare in the UK was that people were surprised to find out there were traces of horsemeat DNA in beef burgers. To be honest I was expecting the amount of alien substances to be similar to that commonly found in a witch’s list for a magical potion.

In the movie The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, an ordinary and unassuming insurance salesman leading what seems to be a perfect life. What is less obvious to Burbank/Carrey is that since his birth he has been the main focus of the most popular reality show in television history.

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented, intones solemnly the show’s director Christof (played with great panache by Ed Harris) at some point in the film. That is, in my opinion, what happened with Equusgate.

Please, refrain from making jokes, they're completely un-neigh-cessary
We live in an era where for more than a decade marketing has trumped veracity and reality has had a makeover, especially of the reality show format. It’s not just on telly where we find this situation, but also in everyday life. Like the food we consume.

One of the reasons why the horsemeat DNA that was found in burgers recently caused such a brouhaha was because occasionally this faux-reality is punctured by actual crises. Then we’re brought back down to Earth. Our food is not what is meant to be. In the case of Equusgate, it was the lower range of the shelf that was mainly affected. These are the cheaper products, often bought by those without the means to opt for something healthier and safer. Hence the checks and regulations most comestibles have to abide by are easier to duck. So, we have a problem of class and modernity. Class because once again it’s the poor bearing the brunt of a crisis. And modernity because one of the prices we’ve paid for our economic and social development is a divorce between man (generically speaking) and nature.

The processes of food preparation and consumption are so far apart these days that it very often feels as if we’d signed an agreement many years ago that read: “Ask no questions, be told no lies. Just swallow”. Except that the reality of the world with which we are presented is sometimes so hard to believe that even the powerful forces of marketing have to backtrack and issue rushed mea culpas.

As a meat-eater myself, I know I’m part of the problem. Instead of paying attention to the way animals are reared and kept, I turn a blind eyet. The steak I had a couple of weeks back at our local probably had a happy life before ending up on my plate. Or maybe it didn’t. Maybe it lived in cramped conditions and suffered a horrible death. I don’t know and to be honest with you, my fellow blogger, I didn’t ask the pub landlord any questions about the provenance of the (dead) animal in front of me. Chomp, chomp, chomp, that’s all I did. I’m part of the problem. I should enquire why bananas seem to keep their beautiful yellow colour after more than five days, when in reality they usually go dark after a 48 hours. Or when I buy those cartons that read “juice drink”, what’s really in them? I should be asking those questions, but I’m not. Because many years ago I signed the agreement that tacitly states that “hereby you accept the reality with which you are presented”.

At the end of the movie The Truman Show, Jim Carrey exits the set after realising that his life is nothing but a television programme. Christof desperately attempts to change his mind. And guess what? When Carrey finally signs off he is cheered by the same audience that had followed his every move since the day he’d been born. Could the same happen to the food we eat? Will we have a happy ending? What do you think?

© 2012

Next Post: “Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana”, to be published on Wednesday 6th February at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. I made myself a black-eyed bean curry last night. I'm a vegetarian.

    What fascinates me is the way the story serves as a reminder of all the pulped abattoir floor-sweepings, etc., that go into processed meat products. As for horsemeat, it's been said for years that it's impossible to eat pepperoni in the UK (e.g., in a pizza) without eating horse.

    I've thought for a while now that there ought to be a word for a news story that simply states something obvious we'd rather not think about (e.g., the recent Prince Harry story, "soldier shoots enemy"). Perhaps there is and I simply don't know it.

  2. smiles... i had a bolivian quinoa /minced meat pan that my daughter cooked yesterday evening...and i hope there was no horse meat our neighbors, the swiss eat horse meat, you can get it in every restaurant. sometimes i find it frightening to think about what really is in our food nowadays... at my uncle we used to eat his own pigs, you knew the food personally so-to-say.. i found that difficult as well..not so much with the pigs but with the rabbits...
    wishing you a wonderful sunday

  3. So true, we are grown a reality that they want us to know with all the marketing and crap, but I don't buy into it. No processed food for me at all, at my hall.

  4. so true on how we turn a blind eye...particularly with our food...we have grown so far from the making of the food...used to be you had to make your own...we think little of where it comes from now...we have other more important things (in our minds) to do....

  5. never seen the movie. I think people today are ignorant. They probably don´t know the meet comes from a killed animal. :(

    Glad you like my photography. :)

  6. Como muy poca carne, pero creo que mejor no pensar mucho en lo que uno come, ya que de lo contrario no comeríamos en muchos lugares, mejor comer con los ojos.
    Un abrazo

  7. Thanks for your comments. Taking my cue from the last comment, if I'm going eat with my eyes, then the clip today fits that purpose. That music and voice are exquisite! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  8. Almost I dont eat meat; my daugther is veggie so most recipes are without meat.
    Anyway last night we ate with my son champignons pasta with parmedsn cheese was delicious:)

  9. I hope we'll have a happy ending, but my sense is that it will not come before we change our attitude about meat. The (still small) trend in the US is for people deciding to be vegetarian or vegan.

    BTW I wish we had more music here like you posted!

    Glad you liked my pics of the Huntington:)!

  10. I found it wickedly funny about the uproar over horsemeat being found in some processed hamburger.

    One of my early jobs in state government was the processing of old newspapers for microfilming.

    Can't tell how many times that I saw ads from the 1930's from the Armour Meats pimping horsemeat as a viable alternative to hamburger.

    Meat is meat, whether from cow, buffalo, ostrich, cow, deer or even horse. Just become something is different doesn't mean it should be automatically condemned.

  11. Agh! Super good points. I wonder if you ever read Mark Bittman in the NY Times as he is very good on all of these issues. I am lucky to have been a vegetarian for many years, but I do eat fish every once in a while which is fed weird stuff for sure and raised increasingly in weird ways. And I do have dairy.

    But I kind of think that to the degree that you can use real ingredients. You are right - who knows even there -- what they do with Bananas! But still, it's better than something all mixed up. And maybe buying local helps. Hard for a Cuban in London perhaps to buy old-time favorites grown locally though!

    It all takes time too, of course. I can't say I buy locally only at all. But luckily there are so many more options now. Thanks. k.

  12. You are right to say that we meat eaters are part of the problem, also that there should have been no surprise about the discovery. The other point that surprised me was the way in which folk carried on as though something toxic had been found, not something that some people consider a delicacy. The issue for me was one of labelling and of no one knowing what our food actually contains.

  13. I would describe myself as "A guilty meat-eater"...I would really like to be vegetarian - and I do try hard to be. But I still have cravings for meat that I can't resist.
    I can only guess it's a subconscious need for certain nutrients that cannot be found in other foods.

    As for the uproar concerning the use of horsemeat, I can't understand that. Meat is meat. An animal has to be sacrificed, whatever animal it is. All meat is cruelty.
    But labelling should be essential. We should know exactly what we are eating, so we can make an informed choice.

    On a happier note, I love the music :)

  14. oh my....yes ~ every once and a while we will comment on how there is never very many stray cats around our favorite Chinese place! (of course we pray that we're joking!!) I think we have a problem of just buying and not wondering where it came from. I had a friend in high school whose father passed away from Mad Cow came from the hamburger he ate. At that point my mother always told me that I should KNOW where the meat I purchase comes many times when I go to reach for the less expensive cut of meat (which I never know exactly where it came from) I hear her voice in the back of my head and I put it down and just plan on the trip to the butcher instead (sometimes not...only because I am in a hurry...I know, taking my life in my hands!) It's an interesting question to pose. I would have to say that in the past 2 years I have seen a lot of concern over the food we consume. A lot more interest in eating organic has really boomed as well. I expect that we will only hear more ~ as we should, to become well informed buyers! I think I've really tried the past few years to purchase locally grown meat and vegetables. I love that I am supporting those businesses and that I know where it comes from ~ and can see how it is grown/raised!

    Loved the music choice ~ very always you make me search to find out more about the muscian (had to find out more about the miner's strike as well!)
    Do enjoy your week ahead!

  15. Hey Cuban!! Quite a thought provoking blog today. I don't eat meat except fish, and I am a rabid reader of labels. Personally I think we all should be, we are what we eat and I'm not signing that agreement to just munch and hope for the best-although that is what I do in a restaurant--I'm not going to interrogate the wait staff-- I feel hopeful in that I see many more vegetarian options in restaurants, markets and much more organic food. However, I'm not a believer in just sitting around hoping for the best. I sign my share petitions against GMO etc. And I vote with my money, in the food choices in the market. That's how we keep some modicum of honesty. Boycotting tuna, we got them to use lines to catch albacore. Avoiding trans fats got manufacturers scrambling to use other fats...there's hope:-)

  16. And this, my friend, is why I'm a vegetarian!

  17. cuban,

    just passing by to say hi and thanks for the lovely comment.
    sorry but i ran out of my time.. i'll come back later to comment on here.

    have a great week ahead~:)

  18. Very thought provoking post. I am guilty of not knowing the ingredients of most of what I eat. So many preservatives and chemicals. I do try not to eat meat. Every once in a while, i have chicken, but always feel undisciplned when I slip and have it. I do eat fish.
    Yesterday I had a veggie burger and a tangerine banana fruit salad for dinner. Very yummy and no guilt.

  19. Umm Cubano, I don't think there's much of a happy ending with food production. I don't eat meat but there are so many unnatural things done to food that the trendy locovore movement in the U.S., where you don't eat anything that was grown or raised more than 30 miles away from you, is the only way to go.

  20. Many thanks for your comments. The irony is that I have eaten horsemeat before when I used to live in Cuba. Apparently it's good to raise your blood levels, especially if you suffer from anemia. You can't eat too much of it, though! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  21. I'm vegan ;O. My mother moved to Italy after WW2 to marry my dad & horsemeat was THE meat they sold you at the time, & people were happy to have it.

  22. I think that we are mandated to the them of ignorance is bliss at such an early age, it can be difficult to overcome.

    As long as society is focused on self, I don't see much changing; other than the inspiring story of enlightenment now and again.

    Wow, that was negative. I better go find an attitude adjustment.

  23. I try not to ponder where my meat comes from. It is bad enough seeing abused pets around I can only imagine what happens to cows. Nuff said. A happy ending would be a pipe dream but perhaps, and there is always hope-and ignorance.

  24. Ugh.. I had Chinese takeout last night. AND there's a missing golden retriever poster on our corner. ;)

    Yeah, we non vegetarians are indeed a big part of the problem. We're moving out to the country soon and we hope to find reputable sources for our food once there. Free range, organic, humane deaths. I hope.

    A fine post.

  25. i think most people are completely unaware of what is happening in the meat industry. eating meat? lately i've been eating a little meat; i love animals and i believe that animals have "rights* just feels kind of guilty; i don't know how to describe it..

    thank you for your so well written article.

  26. Agh - lost my comment.

    This is a wonderful piece with a feel of magic and nostalgia -your guy reminds me of Melquiades (I think that is the name) - from Marquez.

    You should consider linking to dVerse if you want - a prompt on memoir -

    Thanks. k.

  27. Thanks, manic, I just logged on now after a very tiring day, including my regular run. I'll leave it for another occasion. Ta muchly.

    Greetings from London.



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