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A meaty dilemma: February 2013

posted Mar 6, 2013, 7:37 AM by Dinner Lady
By mid January there was a lot of snow and a few rumours that horses were mascarading as cows. I remember because in mid-January, despite the heavy snow, I had my first whole day away from the family for pleasant rather than career reasons. And as my mother and I enjoyed a (pescatarian) tapas lunch before a matinee, we pondered on the small news item about traces of horse meat DNA being found in cheap minced beef.  

My first emotion was relief. I have not eaten cheap mince for so long I can't remember, but certainly not since BC (Before Children) so this latest food scandal wasn't effecting me. Next emotion was disgust.  Disgust at eating a beautiful horse that was born for jumping, showing off and riding.  Then confusion. Why would I be disgusted by horse and in heaven with cow? Other food cultures love horse meat and ethically there really is no difference between consuming those meant to plough the field and those who chew the cud.  So my mother and I agreed that it was not eating horse per se that was the problem (although I have to say, my heart and gut still feels it's kinda weird to eat horse). It was a symbolic problem.  Symbolic that our food system has become so complex, large and extended it reminds me of family gatherings where I love meeting and chatting to friendly folk but struggle to remember from whence they come and don't know much about them.  Put simply, when we buy from a large supermarket chain, we don't really know where our meat originates from.

And then the fear set it.  I had been relaxed in the smug knowledge that we have eaten less and less meat as part of the Four and a half bellies challenge and what little meat we eat is organic or free range, sourced from our butcher.   I suddenly realised with a jolt that Maths Geek and The Noble Knight dine on meat five times a week...at school. And why on earth would I trust school meat?  (This was weeks before revelations that school kids across England have been dining out on horse - this Dinner Lady was ahead of the game!).  A plan.  The boys rarely do what I say.   So rather than ban them from eating school meat, I thought I would instil disgust and fear in them. I explained to them, in all gory detail, how horse meat was found in mince meat. The very stuff their burgers are made of. They looked horrified, and then pondered for a few short seconds. 
"That's ok" said The Noble Knight, my trusting and affectionate son. "I know the cook and the dinner ladies. They wouldn't buy horse meat for us."  Maths Geek, always the sceptic, added "Maybe we could spy on them and check....". And I tried to explain food systems; about suppliers, abattoirs, antibiotics, fraud, links in chains, consumers, profits....and the boys ran off to chase robbers and dark knights.  

A few weeks later we were sitting down to have lunch, a left over from Mrs Doubtfire's Friday night's culinary soundtrack to Season 5's finale of Mad Men: home made New York beef (!) burgers with Old Fashioneds.  At first the boys grumbled that our succulent, tasty, organic homemade burgers were a very definite second best to their school's version. I have witnessed them, a blackened crisp block, sandwiched between two dry baps, sauceless and dead. Oh the insult!  Mid chomp, The Noble Knight piped up "I told my friends not to eat burgers cos they have horse meat in them. But it's ok.  We looked inside and there wasn't any horse".  What were they expecting?  A hoof to poke it's way out of the burger? A soundtrack of neighing and whinnying instead of the splurging ketchup? I don't know. But I do know that despite my little Knight's noble attempts to join me in my food crusades, he had not quite got it.   


Worst of the waste

  • Mrs Doubtfire buying new ingredients for the Home made beef burgers as per the recipe instructions - a whole packet of crackers when we already had an open packet at home, and anyway, breadcrumbs would do - but I guess I shouldn’t grumble when he gave me a night off cooking
  • not noticing the six beetroots that were buried underneath the sack of potatoes until they were too shrivelled to do anything with apart from bin them

Best food saves

  • made a winter vegetable and lentil soup using carrots and parsnips and a small swede that were ‘more than ready to be used up’
  • added a spoonful or two of left over tinned tomato soup and a small tupperware of left over cooked rice to the soup
  • used up a green cabbage that had been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks to make cabbage and potato sweet(ish)curry 
  • used up Saturday 10th Feb night's home made curry left overs, left over homemade winter vegetable soup, 1 tortilla wrap filled with 2 mushrooms I found in the fridge, sautéed, to make a smorgasbord of tasty dishes for a Sunday lunch
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