Thursday, February 21, 2013

You are eating horsemeat: or there are 450 places where something could go wrong with your food

Horse meat.

Pig bung.


What do these three things have in common?

Or maybe your first question is "what the eff is pig bung?" Let me explain. This week, three stories came to my attention. Two because they're making headlines, and one because it was on "This American Life" two weeks ago and I only just listened to it this morning.

Horse meat: Europe is horrified to discover that its beef supply has some horse meat in it. In some cases traces, in some cases up to 80%. Of what was supposed to be beef burger meat. Salon does a great job of covering the issue and it implications.  Now the fact that horse is being eaten is not what should horrify in my opinion, though I suspect for many people that is the case. What should horrify is stuff like this, from Salon:

"While the explanation of where some of the horse meat could have come from is straightforward, how it got to dinner plates is not. As Lichfield explains, “It came from abattoirs in Romania through a dealer in Cyprus working through another dealer in Holland to a meat plant in the south of France which sold it to a French-owned factory in Luxembourg which made it into frozen meals sold in supermarkets in 16 countries.”

Leading to: "There are 450 places where something could go wrong before your food gets into your hands."

Pig bung: NPR's "This American Life" did a piece on Doppelgangers, with one act on the possibility that pig rectums are being sold as calamari, and that unsuspecting customers may (or may not) be eating it fried with marinara sauce, unawares. In some cultures, pig rectum is one more ingredient and people eat it knowingly. Despite the fact that without proper blanching and brining it might tastes sort of poop-like. But once again, the interesting thing here, which TAR does a good job of parsing, is not that we might be eating pig rectum, but that we are eating it when we've been told we are eating something else. Namely seafood, instead of pork.

Speaking of seafood:

Rockfish: A story that was making the rounds this fall appeared on the TAR piece and also this week again in the NYT. Likely because of the horsemeat story and an attempt to find something stateside that is equally deceptive. Short story is that there is fish fraud happening on a mass scale in this country. A lot of the time when we think we are eating one kind of fish, it's another, cheaper species. So instead of Snapper, it's Rockfish. This one probably rankles consumers in a different way. Less about being grossed out, and more about feeling ripped off. Also, there is the issue of sustainability. When it comes to seafood, consumers are getting more and more picky, for personal health and environmental reasons. They might even be using a Seafood Guide to steer their choices. So it's pretty upsetting when you might not get what you are asking for.

But the common thread is:
we have no idea what we are eating.
Given how many hands much of our food passes through (450?), there often isn't a way to know.
Do what you can to shorten the distance between your food's origins and your mouth.

PS that photo up top is one I took in Parma, I believe. Somewhere in Italy anyway. Horse butcher! No big whoop.

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