I could eat a horse, and so could you. So could most people, because a healthy horse is perfectly edible.
To call it a contaminant, as many in the media have done, is as misleading as calling carbon dioxide a pollutant. Horse is not toxic or impure, and nor is carbon dioxide, which is a naturally occurring gas, just as horse is a naturally occurring animal. If anything is being polluted here, it is language.
But there is something else going on, and Leonard Cohen, the master of language, foresaw it (and much more) in his song The Future. “Things are going to slide,” he said, “slide in all directions; won’t be nothing you can measure any more.”
The problem is not that there is horse in ready foods: it is that ready foods are so mediocre that you can’t tell whether there is horse in them or not.
Some concoctions invite substitution, like meat balls. Are they beef, pork or something even more sinister? If they don’t tell us on the tin – or the packet – how can we know?
All right, we can avoid that kind of food if we’re worried. But if we do, we are still faced with another trend in supermarkets: dumbing down. I have been infuriated recently in the vegetable section (and that can be dangerous) by finding potatoes labelled “Potatoes” or sometimes daringly “White Potatoes”.
Now I suppose there may be people who don’t know a potato when they see it, or can’t tell the difference between white and red, but when I’m looking for potatoes I want to know what sort they are. I happen to like King Edwards, but they’re becoming increasingly hard to find.
I can foresee a time when, to avoid the horse problem, all meat will be labelled “Meat”; in fact I’m almost sure I’ve come across meat curry in the not-too-distant past. Then where will we be? I’ll tell you. We’ll be on the fish counter, trying to distinguish between hake (fish) and herring (fish).
Or will we just go for one of those “meal deals” that seem to crop up everywhere, and not worry our little heads about it?