I woke up this morning to a flurry of snow and news headlines centreing around equine DNA being found in Tesco hamburgers. Tesco weren't the only supermarket selling these products but they seem to be the one to have made the headlines the most.
As I listened to the news, followed my twitter feed and checked the headlines, a few thoughts were running through my mind. Over the day these thoughts have cemented themselves into hopefully what will be a coherent, non ranty post.
As an omnivore I actually have little issue with there being horse meat in the burgers - if cows, sheep, pigs and deer are good enough for humans to eat then why the boundary with horses? If we lived in mainland Europe then this in itself wouldn't make headlines. The issue here is in not being able to make that choice, after all, who expects to find horse in burgers labelled as beef.
What I have an issue with is the people who have become all high and mighty about those who have consumed these burgers. Comments such as "people should buy their own mince and make burgers then they'd know what was in them" were abounding on twitter this morning. And while I don't and can't disagree with that, it's a fact, yes they would. But, and this is a big but, do we think about the reasons why some have little choice but to purchase products such as Everyday value burgers?
Maybe because they cost £1 for 8? In the last few days Jessops, Blockbuster and HMV have gone into administration. Last weekend Honda cut 800 jobs in Swindon. People are losing their jobs and struggling to support their families all over the country, relying on ever reducing benefits to do so.
So why aren't people buying beef mince and making their own burgers? Very often those relying on processed food do so, not just from a cost perspective, but also from a lack of confidence in their own cooking abilities. This in itself is not unlinked (I would guess) to adults of my generation doing very little actual cooking at school. So if you yourself didn't have a parent with the means or the inclination to teach you to cook, that combined with the economic ???? of the country may mean that you find yourself now struggling.
It's also worth a mention here that if you lack confidence, no recipe in any of my many cookbooks for a burger is going to give you that. I could show anyone how to easily make 8 tasty burgers. I would probably tell them that they would be nearly as cheap as those removed from sale today. I would do this with the best of intentions having forgotten to cost in the oil, the egg or breadcrumbs, any seasoning I used. Now I've not mentioned the cost of the gas and electricity as you need to cook the bought ones anyway but I could be pernickity and think about the cost of having the lights on while you make them. And believe me, whilst I don't talk about it (and although not now) I have been one of the people for whom that is a real concern, one of the people who don't just happen to have herbs in the cupboard or spare eggs in the fridge. Food poverty is a real issue in this country, right now and I think that today's headlines only serve to draw more attention to that.
So there we have the main challenge. If you struggle with cooking but have a disposable income that affords you the higher end/ luxury ranges of burgers then you don't run the risk of unknowingly eating horsemeat or worse. If on the other hand you struggle with cooking but don't have that income, you are left with a much reduced choice and may have ended up eating something you neither thought you had purchased, nor wanted to eat.
Penelope's Pantry is not going to set the world to rights - it would take more than this post to do that. But I don't think that horse DNA is cause to condemn those people who have little option but to buy foods of this type for their families. It is a warning that actually more needs to be done to support and educate people around the food that they buy and put into their bodies. Finally it demonstrates that supermarkets need to show more respect to those shoppers buying their value ranges.