Monday, 25 February 2013

'Horse it into ya'

For westerners travelling in what you might call ‘developing’ countries, one of the many pieces of advice they’ll get from home is to be careful about what they eat. ‘You can never be too sure what’s on your plate is what the locals might say it is’ is a common refrain – particularly so when it comes to meat. Well in a ‘shocking’ reversal of fortunes, it seems a large portion of ‘developed’ Europe has been, not quite ‘taken for a ride’ on a horse, but actually eating one – or more than one it would seem.
Living horses in the flesh, as we're used to seeing them
Holy horses

For instead of the meat content of some packaged products consisting of only beef as they were meant to, it turns out a little bit of horse meat was thrown in too, to give it a bit of a ‘kick’ we can only guess. Now for some people, depending perhaps on their country of origin, this isn’t that big of a deal. But for others, especially those in Ireland and Britain, not only is the thought of eating a horse a little unsettling, it’s actually illegal. Back in the old country, we do just about everything else with horses except eat them. In one sense this might be seen as a little unfair – why single out the horse for special treatment – but that’s just the way it is.

Whatever about your own thoughts on eating horse meat – we’re not fussy in this regard as any meat is a rare ‘treat’ these days – the bigger issue here of course is the break down in trust between the consumer and the supplier. When people buy these packaged meats, they expect it to be what it says on the packet – regardless if the actual true meat content is minuscule. There is also the problem of quality assurance and standards. As most horses are not raised for human consumption, they and their meat are not treated as food stuff in the same way that cattle, pigs and sheep are (or at least should be) and therefore generally not subject to the same standards. This is especially so in terms of what injections and medication they receive throughout their life.

The fact however that this ‘scandal’ has been limited, so far at least, to relatively cheap packaged meals – ready made lasagne, meat pies and such like – has seen the debate also centre on the people that buy them and why. Regardless of whatever kind of meat is in these ‘meal-in-a-minute’ style products, many of them firmly fall into the junk food category, despite what the manufacturers might say; high in fat, salt, carbohydrates, sugar even and loaded with other ‘enhancers’ while the protein levels are pretty low.
A satisfying vegetable dish - we don't always have to have meat with our main meals
Healthy, home made grub

People who buy them – and from what we’ve witnessed in the past it’s not just those from the poorest backgrounds – point to the fact that they are cheap and extremely convenient. No labouring in the kitchen required. Both aspects are true, but you can get many different types of fresh fruit and vegetables (both root and over-ground) for similar, if not cheaper prices. As for the convenience, it doesn’t take that long to put together a tasty vegetable stir-fry where you control what kind of flavours are added. Heck, chop up a few spuds and put them on the boil and they’re ready in less than 30 minutes – OK, it’s not as quick as five minutes in the microwave but when your health and well-being’s at stake, what’s half an hour? We tend to find too that if you wash the pots and pans you used in cooking before you sit down to eat, it makes the meal all the tastier.

‘Ah, but what about the meat’ you ask. Well for one, as pointed out earlier, there’s not much of that in the majority of those ‘all-in-one’ meals – at best the ‘scratchings’ from a butcher. Plus, do we really need to eat meat everyday of the week or even at least twice a day as it is for some? No is the simple answer, we don’t.

Many of us have become so accustomed to having some sort of meat with most of our snacks that anything we eat without it just doesn’t seem right. It’s a safe bet though that if we all had to personally kill our own animals there’d be plenty more vegetarians about – and no one would be any the worse-off. Indeed there might be a reduction in obesity because of it, considering the quality of meat, or lack thereof as the case is, that many consume these days.

There’s a lot of satisfying, healthy fun you can have with cooking an array of different vegetables that can be ready to eat in minutes. Yet, even in times where in many parts of the world the abundance of a variety of ‘green’ foods has never been greater, our willingness to experiment with them is quite low in general.
The horseradish plant - not to be confused with the 'horse', the animal
HorseRADISH (pic from

Our native land often comes in for criticism on this front. Climatically and historically though, we Irish have an excuse – the land naturally isn’t brimming full of different types of fruit and veg all year round. That’s far less the case however here in our adopted country of Colombia. Most of the locals though seem unwilling to embrace a varied vegetable diet, even though plenty of them are available and at very cheap prices. In fact the standard plate here generally comes with three starchy carbohydrates – rice, potatoes and pasta – mushy beans or peas, a token piece of meat or fish and a bit of a salad that a snail would devour in seconds. You’d find more colour and variety at a Ku Klux Klan meeting compared to the offerings on a standard Colombian dish.

That’s not to say we don’t like what they eat here, but they could be a little more ‘adventurous’ in the kitchen at times*. For example a little more horseradish and less, erm, horse. Are you listening Europe?

*For our like of the 'famed' arepas in particular, check out 'Six of the best in 2012 (well kind of)'

+In case you're wondering, the 'inspiration' for the title of this post came from this particular 'gem' of a song:


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