Jeremy Lewis: Horse meat scandal shows importance of honest ingredients
IT was somewhere near Angers that my pop, anxious to test his half-decent French, parked our shiny new 1965 VW Caravanette and went shopping for lunch.
He returned with a couple of French sticks and some mixed cold meats. We found a Loire-side glade and enjoyed a picnic lunch.
My mother, assembling seconds of butty, reached for more slices of the cured and slightly sweet red meat which she said she had relished first time round.
If only all beef was as enjoyable.
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My pop, shaking with mirth, disclosed that his nearest and dearest had just got herself on the outside of a portion of horse.
Cue a reprimand, a switch to garlic sausage and a tense silence that lasted right through Muscadet country and all the way to Nantes.
At the age of 12 I had yet to develop my passion for horse racing, so I tried a slice of nag and thought it rather bland; in need of a pinch of salt or a hefty smear of Pan-Yan pickle.
I don't believe I have eaten it since, although if the news stories of the last month are to be believed, I've probably inadvertently bolted a tonne of the wretched stuff.
Horse meat became popular in France in the 1790s because something had to be done with the hacks and carriage horses of all those aristocrats who had been taken in a tumbrel for a short back and sides in the Place de la Revolution.
Then Bonaparte's troopers, struggling on campaign rations, began to think constructively about what to do with wounded chargers.
Parisians again turned to horse when the Prussians besieged the city in 1871.
However the world's biggest producers of horse meat are not the French but the Chinese, and some of those countries in central Asia whose generally unpronounceable names end with the syllable "-stan".
My chief memory of this latest food scandal will be the succession of hand-wringing processors and retailers who have been queuing up to protest that there is no health risk attached to scoffing horse.
I'll believe that when the scientists confirm that the meat they test contains no trace of drugs like Phenylbutazone – an anti-inflammatory treatment commonly used on horses but no longer prescribed for humans in the UK because of the damage it can do to blood.
It's all a matter of taste, of course, but I still think pickle is a better condiment for horse flesh.
However I'd prefer to have seen the hand-wringers devoting as much air time to the fact that we shoppers have once again been stiffed at the check-out, where we have paid handsomely for goods that weren't what they seemed.
Nottingham butchers are alleging that demand for their products has surged, with shoppers taking a keener interest in the provenance of meat.
I hope the interest is sustained. I would not deter convenience food buyers from purchasing processed products generally, but there is no substitute for home-made dinners using ingredients with an honest history.