Clive Caines Cultural Contributor

Clive Caines Cultural Contributor

Whatever it says about me I’ll gladly accept but whenever I think of food a number of images spring to mind: there’s the image of parents bonding with their children around the dining table; there’s the image of friendships being developed and strengthened through the opportunity to chat while enjoying a good meal.

There’s also the image of food being the lifeblood of romance as countless couples nurture their relationship over the dinner plate.

I’m also drawn to the idea that food acts as the cultural glue that keeps us reminded of who we are and where we’ve come from. Though I was born and bred in the UK my parent’s came here from the Caribbean and I was reminded of this, if ever I needed reminding, whenever I sat at the dining table.

There was the food that I rejected, the yams, the green bananas and turned corn and the food that I’ve always enjoyed chicken rice and peas, salt fish and ackee, fried dumplings and roasted red snapper.

What I particularly liked about my favourite dishes was that they were cooked at home and cooked from scratch. By the time I left home not only could I cook these dishes but I also believed that if you wanted to eat properly you had to put a pot on.

Conservative MP John Selwyn Gummer

Conservative MP John Selwyn Gummer . Photo courtesy

Nowadays I’m more than happy to eat in a restaurant and will eat on the move if I’m busy but I cannot understand why we have an over reliance on process foods.

I say all this in reaction to the horsemeat scandal currently sweeping through Europe. Though I haven’t knowingly eaten horse meat I don’t have anything against the idea.

However I most definitely wouldn’t want it in my food without being told it was there. I can also certainly understand why many people are horrified on being told that the burgers they’d been enjoying were in some cases up to 100% horse meat.

As I watch the daily drip, drip of news setting out the extent of the horsemeat scandal I’m much more interested in public reassurances that come with it.

Damping down public hysteria seems to be the first stage of political and PR reaction to food industry scandals.

When the salmonella problems with eggs first broke, so strong was the initial industry defence that Edwina Curry, the politician who first raised the issue, was forced to stand down.

Salmonella infected child

Salmonella infected child. Photo courtesy

On a similar note I cannot forget the then Conservative MP John Selwyn Gummer feeding his daughter a beef burger in order to stave off public concerns about the quality of British Beef.

To my mind the Poultry industry has for decades been fighting a rear guard battle in defence of battery farming. There are many who say that not only is battery farming ‘inhumane’ but it’s likely to provide the perfect proving ground for a food-borne disaster; there is already an estimated 2.4 million cases of Campylobacter, which causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.

If my thinking is right the public reassurances will be the first stage in the horsemeat scandal. The message on salmonella in eggs went from public reassurance to acknowledgement that salmonella was an issue but you’d be on the safe side if they were cooked through.

Then there’s the beef crisis, which must give John Selwyn Gummer a slight sense of unease, ending up with the industry having to acknowledge that there was a link between beef and Cruetzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD).

What concerns me about the horsemeat scandal is that currently no one is able to say how or where they were reared yet we are being reassured; I’ll remain skeptical that this will turn out to be a case of no harm no foul.

At the moment the list of food companies who have had to declare that they have found traces of horsemeat in their products seem to be growing exponentially.

Some of the most notable names among these companies are Nestle, Bird’s Eye and Findus, along with these are some of the world’s biggest names in food retail: Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Waitrose.

Horse meat burger

Could this delicious burger contain horse meat? Photo courtesy

At the moment it appears that there is only a handful of ready made food products on sale in these stores that contain traces of horsemeat: lasagna, burgers, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie and ready made chili; but along with these products there have been traces of pork found in what should be pure beef products.

If you want to find a message behind the popularity of ready-made food then you could do worse than surmise that we have lost sight of how to cook and with it our understanding of what real food is.

Unfortunately with that loss of knowledge comes a willingness to accept that food can be produced cheaply and still retain a reasonable level of quality.

However a maybe more disturbing message is bound up in the fact that behind the horsemeat scandal is the good old-fashioned profit motive.

I for one struggle to understand how anyone can be so driven by money that they are willing to deliberately adulterate food products.  But maybe the bigger issue is that those that think that way know that they can get away with it because no one’s checking.