On the outrage over horse meat being found in beefburgers.
The outrage over horse meat in burgers shows societies unwillingness to accept the the harsh and unsettling truths of our existence.
The stomachs of a lot of people in Britain and Ireland gurgled queasily last week when the news broke that there has probably been the odd bit of horse mixed into their supermarket beef burgers. Hilarious, right?
Given the generally muted response to the findings, it seems that the fabled Old World sense of irony has served them well in appreciating the dark humour involved in Sweeney Todding two entire nations of curiously horsemeat-phobic consumers. That said, you can almost hear horrified gasps of the animal rights sector.
A similar story broke on public radio in the United States when a writer discussed the urban legend that store-bought calamari rings were, in fact, pig rectums. Aside from the very serious consumer concerns raised by industrial food producers substituting one product for another, pig rectums, and horse meat raise two interesting points.
1) If you can’t tell the difference between one type of food considered delicious, and another considered abhorrent without being told, is there actually a difference between eating them?
2) Battered and fried pig rectums sound much tastier than battered and fried squid.
Much of the rest of the world responded to the news of mistaken meats by not responding at all: no one cares if a bunch of meat-fanatics accidentally put one type of dead animal into their mouths instead of another. Can you blame them? There’s something a little precious about the about our meat taboos. They are bound up with the larger worldview that some types of animal murder/ingestion are perfectly benign while others are inherently evil and destructive to some vague notion human enlightenment and civility.
Really? Take a moment to consider that. Britain, just for instance, is the country that goes to the bookies en masse ever year in April to bet on race horses in the Grand National. Then they get viciously drunk and watch as roughly half of the horses mangle their bodies beyond salvation, are shot on the track, and summarily turned into dog food and glue. They feed their dogs horses, but of course, they would never eat them themselves. What a waste of meat.
Flippant, I know, but then there is a dinner table immorality to this type of waste. First world humans – not the poor kind living in other countries that don’t bear mentioning – massacre outlandish numbers of animals every year, from racing horses and dogs past their prime, to the millions of stray animals that end up the invisible casualties of a pet industry gone completely fucking bananas. This is tacitly accepted, but to eat those same animals would be a venal sin against those twin pillars of western ethics: Disney and the organic food industry. This is the epitome of petite bourgeoisie self-delusion: creating an elaborate, contradictory and altogether ridiculous pseudo-spiritual rationalisation for what amounts to picky eating and squeamishness with death.
It’s not just a culinary issue: The old folks go to the nursing homes, the wars happen in some ‘Stan country, the animals are all killed somewhere in big factories out in the country so that none will hear them squeal or, worse, get a whiff of the smell. Even the horses at the Grand National are hidden behind large screens from the TV cameras so they can die gruesomely and painfully in relative privacy. Like a baby playing peekaboo, we seem to believe that that as long as we can’t see death, death doesn’t exist.
Welcome to the vanguard of cultural decadence. The drinks are always micro-brewed, the meat is free range, killed by suffocation with down-stuffed silk pillows, and somehow, it’s all been carbon offset.
Many people will tell you that the answer to the irresponsible and overly precious consumption of meat is to be a vegetarian. Do not trust them, the lack of blood in their diet has affected their ability to reason. Meat is one of the nicest things you can put in your mouth in public. Life without it is like life without booze, sex, gambling, pro sports and drugs.
Existence does not require these things, but it sure runs a lot smoother when it includes at least two of them. Here’s an alternative: eat less meat, enjoy the meat you do eat to the fullest, and stop acting like you aren’t involved in a bloody, cruel, atavistic and totally savage pleasure. If you can accept and reconcile certain, limited barbarisms against animals with your own existence then you are ready to eat meat like a responsible human being. If you can’t, then it’s time to try vegetarianism. What it lacks in taste it more than makes up for with self-satisfaction.
In a world that tries to segregate people from even the suggestion of death and suffering through the hyper codification and rationalisation of life and production processes, the one thing that responsible citizens can’t afford is to forget the material reality of life: blood, guts and death.
The second we start to believe that wars exist only on television, starvation only happens to Africans and our hamburgers come from the hamburger factory the future will be very dark indeed.