We must take responsibility for the food choices we make
It seems safe to assume that those of us buying the cheapest of the cheap supermarket burgers are among the very poorest in society.
Who ate all the pies? More specifically, who ate all the trashy horse meat burgers? It wasn’t me, and I’m guessing it probably wasn’t you. It seems fairly safe to assume that those of us buying the cheapest of the cheap supermarket burgers – the ones made from fatty gloop power-hosed off animal bones, mixed with chemical additives and compressed into sad, skimpy little patties – are the very poorest in society.
These are the people who cannot afford to dine on real meat, but have to settle for the dregs and scrapings of the mass-market food industry. They are the true victims of the horse meat scandal, or so the popular story goes: exploited, outwitted and humiliated by a ruthless supermarket monopoly that feeds them rubbish, and treats them like rubbish.
There’s just one problem with this widely accepted narrative: it isn’t entirely true. Poorer people may indeed be the prime purchasers of cheap processed food, and supermarkets are certainly effective at disguising barely edible fodder as delicious, good-value meals – now with added horse. Yet no one is forcing less well-off people to buy and eat this guff. They have minds of their own, and it is entirely their choice how they spend the little money they have. It might be a bad, unhealthy choice to buy cheapo burgers – and I think it is – but it’s up to them.
In making that point, I’ve already broken one of the cardinal tenets of the Great Middle-Class Rule Book. Many of us may secretly think that feeding your kids mechanically recovered meat is a terrible idea, but we must never say so, for fear of being labelled snobbish. Instead, poorer people are to be treated like victims, or like children: to be cheerily helped along because they don’t know any better, and their choices must never, ever, be condemned. Not aloud, anyway.
The recent remarks of well-known food writer Rose Prince, responding to the horse meat crisis, are typical of this mindset; it appears benign, caring even, but it’s actually a form of subtly inverted snobbery. She said: “Generally people who are interested in where their food originates can afford to be interested. The people who can’t afford to be deserve to be a little more protected.” Why protected? We protect people who we believe to be less capable than ourselves, less aware, less advanced. But it is highly offensive to assume that, simply by virtue of having less money in their pockets, certain people need particular protection or assistance in the decisions they make. And why assume that a lack of cash automatically confers a lack of interest in what they want to eat?