Horse burger: the tragic comedy

Another scandal has shaken up the culinary world in this time of great cold when comfort food is much needed to warm us up! But besides the cultural shock of having a bite at one of Western Europeans’ favourite animal, the horse burger story begs another question: do we know exactly what is at the end of our fork?


Disgust is probably the reaction of most people to the idea that they might have gulped down a bit of horse with their Sunday night frozen Aldi burger.

But whilst the public is shocked and outraged having been so despicably tricked with horse, the various food and hygiene committees all assert being “very concerned” about the traces of equine DNA found in some of Tesco’s, Iceland’s, Aldi’s and Lidl’s beef burgers. Those concerns have been quickly undermined by some “experts” who confirmed that the found traces are not dangerous for human health. No mention of the horses’ health, though.

The story strongly reminded me of the tale of Sweeny Todd only this time the human remains in the pies have been replaced by some horse in burgers. Surprisingly enough, if Johnny Depp is brilliantly terrifying in Tim Burton’s version, our modern version has been turned into a family comedy.

The Independent and The Telegraph have both opted for the “it’s not that bad” version of the story arguing that as “you easily might not notice” the difference between horse and beef meat. The Telegraph’s journalist even films himself tasting for us some “delicious” horse, “sweet and tight”, under the gaze of the plastic animal standing next to the plate. The whole setting looks like a children’s programme which aims to show that horse meat is genuinely not harmful.

Although disgust, outrage, and irony are potential powerful weapons to approach such a story, a much more serious issue should be raised: we are increasingly less aware of what kind of food we are consuming. Despite the need of a pair of binoculars to read the label of any kind of packaged food, even the biggest telescope would not assure you of what exactly is in your plate. However, knowing what we are nurturing our body with is a right and one which should not be conceded to agro-industrial lobbies.

A hypothetical explanation given to the equine DNA traces would be the attempt of industrialists to mix both horse and beef meat, similar in taste, in order to make their burgers on the cheap. This is just another of many examples of the extent of our money-driven society in which common sense seems no longer to have a place.

Investigations will hopefully lead to some better explanations. Meanwhile, Tesco had stopped the sale of their horse burgers while the others have proceeded at some withdrawals of the product in supermarkets – whatever that entails.

One last thing: I can not help myself thinking that we were lucky it was only horse in those burgers. Who knows what else they could have come up with….

Published on The Yorker on January 17, 2013
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