Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why The Long Face?

I'm a vegetarian. In the interests of full disclosure, I thought I'd put that one out there before you read any further. Not going to be preachy about it. just saying.

Anyway, it turns out some UK supermarkets and fast food chains have been selling beef products from the same supplier that sold Tesco products containing up to 29% horse meat and other traces of horse DNA.

Leaving aside the argument about correct food labelling, hygiene etc. it does bring into focus the British view of animals, in particular which ones it's "acceptable" to eat.

If, for example, it had turned out that some beef products actually contained up to 29% pork, or lamb, or chicken, would there have been the same fuss made? Probably not. These are all animals we're used to eating and consider to be a food source. Labelling issues aside, most people would probably have shrugged and gone about their day.

We in Britain however, don't eat horses. The equine fraternity are designed to be ridden for pleasure, or for sport, or just to be looked after as pets. Certainly not slow braised in a nice red wine reduction and served with root vegetables. That kind of thing simply isn't on, and is something look down our noses for at our continental neighbours who do such things.

Then there's the South East Asian fondness for dogs. And no, not in a sponsor one in a home or a Joel Monaghan style either. More barbecued, really. Again, not something the British do to old Spot or Rover. Some people will happily breed them to fight to the death, but heaven forbid the loser ends up in a bap covered in ketchup.

So why is it we'll eat a chicken, or a duck, or a goose, but if you present us with a little roasted sparrow - beak and all - we'll pull a face and tell you it's disgusting?

I've a theory that this all goes back to children's literature. How many of the storybook classics we're read as children contain anthropomorphised version of animals given human characteristics, and how does this influence which one we consider acceptable to eat?

Take the Three Little Pigs for example. It is clear, despite their abilities (or otherwise) on the construction front, that the pigs are intended to be a food source. Pigs are that magical animal that produces pork, ham and bacon after all. No wonder the wolf is trying to eat them.

Jemima Puddle-Duck is predated on by the fox, who attempts to attract her back to his lair so he can roast her. Presumably with some lovely redcurrant jelly. Again, nothing unusual there. People eat ducks, so why shouldn't foxes find them delicious?

At no point in the Black Beauty books however, do you read about someone trying to get Beauty hung up to turn into burgers. Or Lassie being chased down the street with a cleaver by the Korean family from the next village. These are animals it is ingrained into us that are not for eating, but for treating like members of the family.

So if you want to know who is to blame for the British having this eccentric attitude towards animals and their eating, I suggest you look first at the likes of Enid Blyton, Anna Sewell and those who teach us at an early stage what's for eating and what's for petting.

No comments: