When my mother made food for her family the process was quite laborious. She had to go to the shops at Poplar’s Chrisp Street Market, which were directly under our maisonette. If she was making a lasagna or a spaghetti Bolognese or what we called “rondes” but are now known as hamburgers she bought beef from the butchers – not the best cuts because no one ate filet in Poplar and then the other ingredients from the Home and Colonial a few doors away. She would buy fresh vegetables from her favourite market stall and bring them home.
She set up her mincing machine which was a steel affair which screwed onto the table for support, minced the beef and then prepared the ingredients and cooked the meal. She had selected the beef and minced it herself.
Today most people will buy lasagna ready made from a supermarket. It saves quite a lot of time. The companies that make the lasagna that sell it to the supermarkets do not do an industrial version of what my mother did. They do not go to the abattoir or wholesale butchers to select their beef, but buy it ready minced from companies that buy the beef and mince it.
I guess if you buy beef that is ready minced it must be quite hard to know the quality of what you are buying. If you choose the meat as you but it and mince it yourself I doubt whether you could mistake horse meat for beef.
Food processing companies must frequently buy ingredients which they have never seen, never selected and never processed until they put them into the meal that they are making. Companies like Findus must have bought ready minced meat, rather than buying cuts of beef and supervising the mincing of it for their meals. The industrialised process must mean that mistakes will happen with the ingredients or that unscrupulous people who get involved in selling the ingredients will sell them food that is different from what the food processing company meant to buy.
The problem is the scale of the food production and the distance between production of the food from the making of the food. It seems quite normal to food processing companies based in England to buy ingredients from Poland, five hundred miles away and further. The further that your food has to travel, the more risk attaches to the quality of that food. Not only will you risk the food being brown or produced in unhealthy conditions or in ways that affect the environment adversely, but you will also suffer the deterioration of the food by the travel and the loss of taste that chilling or freezing usually brings to most foods.
It has been reported that the discovery of horse meat in could be disastrous for the meat processing industry; that would be no bad thing. Proper controls and accountability over all food ingredients would mean higher costs for ready meals. Perhaps people could cope with those higher costs by eating smaller portions. That also would be no bad thing.