There has, over the last few weeks, been much talk about meat. Beef appears to have morphed into horse meat, and horse DNA has been found in products it has no right to be in. Although the problem first appeared in Ireland, this is now a Europe-wide issue with various companies, in various countries all pointing the finger at each other, denying all knowledge and using the ignorance defense.
As a vegetarian for the last 20 years or so, this would appear to have nothing to do with me, and I have seen quotes from other veggies on Twitter saying in effect “I’m ok Jack, I don’t eat meat”. I think though, that they are missing the point. This has the potential to affect everyone whether they eat meat or not, and to be incredibly damaging both to the food industry and to farming, not just in the UK but throughout Europe.
The big issue here is whether we can, in fact, believe the labels on the foods we buy, and I am not just talking about meat products. Can we trust that the organic, free range eggs we buy are not in fact non-organic battery eggs, or that the vegetarian cheese is really made with vegetarian rennet? Is the coffee or tea we buy really Fair Trade, and is that bottled water truly from a sparkling, virgin spring or has it come out of a tap? Eau de Thames anyone?
The short answer is that we have no idea, and that we need to start thinking more about what we eat and where it comes from. Perhaps, this will be the turning point and more people will start to cook from scratch. Baking in this country has, thanks to Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, had a bit of a renaissance and making bread, cakes and biscuits is not difficult, so perhaps making rather than buying is a better option; fruit and vegetables can be grown in fairly small spaces or bought from a greengrocers; and there are still butchers, fishmongers and delicatessens to be had if you look hard enough.
Back to basics, is not a phrase I particularly like, but I think that it is apt at the moment. Supermarkets are a great resource if you have no time and want one-stop shopping. You can get everything under one roof, parking is generally easy and they are open long hours, but do they need all our business?
Whatever happened to shopping at and supporting your local highstreet? Is it any wonder that they are dying, and independent shops are struggling to survive when we don’t use them? Shopping local does not necessarily mean paying more. Have you compared the fruit and vegetable prices in your local greengrocer, or asked them if they can get a particular vegetable for you? They can offer a service that the supermarket cannot and will source rare fruit and vegetables if asked. Your butcher or fish monger will prepare your meat or fish for you, which most supermarkets cannot or will not do. There will also be traceability when it comes to where your meat and fish is sourced, particularly if you find a butcher who sells local produce.
It is time to stop and think, and make decisions about what we eat and where the food comes from.