Personification Through Pethood

The food supplier, Findus, is destroying 380,000 frozen ‘beef’ lasagnes. By my reckoning, that’s 150 tonnes of perfectly good food: much of it probably horse meat…

What a waste.

There is no evidence of a risk to human health, and the Food Secretary, Owen Paterson, said he would be happy to eat it with ‘no hesitation at all’. There are shades of John Gummer here, albeit without the hapless daughter.

It is scandalous that we are being sold food with false labelling. While we do not currently know precisely what led to this, the possibility that it was brought about by a deliberate action rather than incompetence is deeply worrying.

Findus is taking legal advice about the grounds for pursuing a case against its suppliers, regarding what they believe is their suppliers’ failure to meet contractual obligations about product integrity.  The early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in Beef Lasagne was not accidental.
(Findus press statement, 9 February 2013)

It is also scandalous that so much food will be simply discarded, especially when there is such great need in our country and elsewhere. I’m sure churches or other charities could effectively distribute these many meals to hungry mouths.

Not everyone will want to eat them of course. Certainly not vegetarians. And many of the rest of us would balk at horse meat.

But why? Once you’ve settled into an omnivorous way of life, why reject la viande de cheval? We are somewhat squeamish about certain foods, especially in the UK. It is a visceral disgust which drives us away from reptiles and insects. But we are also reluctant to eat dogs, cats, horses and bunnies. Rabbits are often served up in country pubs, but never bunnies.

The issue, I think, is personification. All these animals are treated as pets, or they work alongside us as companions. They have been personified through pethood. That is why we don’t want to eat them. It is also a cultural issue, but I believe this culture is born of pethood. Some people will argue that intelligence is a key factor. That may be true, but it doesn’t explain why we so readily consume pork (except Muslims and Jews).

Our general avoidance of horse meat has become a talking point. Vegetarians are asking how the rest of us draw the moral line between what we will and won’t eat; the pethood explanation, while probably true, is not fully satisfactory.

The horse meat ‘crisis’ is a headline issue today. That will subside before long, but I wonder whether it might have a lasting impact. Perhaps more of us will avoid meat altogether. On the other hand, perhaps restaurants like L’Escargot Bleu in Edinburgh will attract more custom for putting horse on the menu. I expect we’ll see a bit of both.

It’s quite right we should be thinking about these things. Global food resources are scarce (ie limited). Perhaps we should be a little less fussy about our meat, and also content with meat-free meals more often. It takes 12 pounds of grain (and other resources) to raise a pound of beef. That is a lot of food to expend to create more food.

Many of us demand a daily fix of meat. This stings the pocket. But it is also desperately hard on the world’s resources. 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat.

Perhaps it’s time to settle for a few more berries and broccoli and a bit less beef.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s