I Could Eat A Horse!

And I have eaten horse.  Not because I have unwittingly bought it in a processed ready-meal, but because I chose to.

I was in France, I was 20, ready to try anything and I had horse filet, medium.  My memory is rather hazy (I can remember eating crocodile, emu and kangaroo in Australia rather more clearly) but I think horse was quite good.

Finding horse-meat in processed food in the UK should come as no surprise.  I am amazed by the reaction, to be honest.  The food industry is out of control, fuelled by greedy retailers looking for cheaper product and higher profits.

For me, trying to manage an autoimmune disease with diet, food has become a very important part of my life.  I place a very high value on good food made with good ingredients and I spend a little bit more time than I used to sourcing quality ingredients, meal planning, re-using left overs, recycling bones and pretty much squeezing every bit of goodness from the food we buy.

Breakfast

For example, here’s what I had for breakfast a couple of days ago.  These are pork meatballs, cold, left over from the night before, with a boiled egg and some of my gorgeous homemade mayonnaise.

A couple of years ago, they would have gone in the bin.  But, why throw away perfectly good food – and, what’s wrong with having something like this for breakfast – absolutely nothing!  We are conditioned by the clever and greedy people who call themselves the food industry to eat cereals and toast 1st thing in the morning.  Of course, that’s what Paleolithic man would be eating – Cheerios and bread?

Why?  Because we’re told it’s good for us.  But really, why?  Because it’s what we all start the day with along with a cup of tea – it’s the convention.  But really really, why?  Because it’s abundant and sustainable, that’s good isn’t it.  But really really really, why?  Because we tell you to and because it makes us money.

Who says that we have to conform to a convention?  A convention designed to make the food industry money?  I’ll tell you who, the bloomin’ food industry, that’s who!

It’s all about money.  Money and greed.  What the food industry is NOT about is delivering good, wholesome, nourishing, responsibly sourced food.  Our processed food is full of chemicals to make it taste better, to keep it on the shelf longer, loaded with salt, bulked up with sugar, ground up bones, eyeballs, testicles, glands, anuses, maybe even feces, dyed to make it look nice and shoved full of all manner of other detritus that would likely make us barf, if we knew about it.

You really have to wonder what goes into a really cheap ready-meal and the thing that we are slowly discovering is, actually, no-one does know.

System

Retailers, especially those in the UK, are maybe waking up to this.  They, along with manufacturers, have created a perverse system, fuelled by greed and it works a bit like this.

This constant pushing down of margins puts people out of business, makes people scared.  We’ve seen this recently with price-fixing of milk, where powerful retailers drove businesses to breaking point, just to make a bit of money.

The horse-meat saga is no different, with retailers and manufacturers creating a system where meat products move around the world, as people try to source it at the cheapest prices.  Sight of the supply chain is lost, no-one really knows where it comes from and no-one really cares.

As the system pushes further and further away from fully understanding where the process starts and what it looks like end to end, criminal activity can, and probably does, creep in and goes unnoticed.  Or, the system turns a blind eye to it because greedy people don’t really care about things like that.

I am reminded of a line from Aliens, when Ripley has found Carter Burke out to be a nasty, greedy piece of work, willing to sacrifice the lives of Ripley and Newt just to make a bit of money and she says (of the aliens who want to use them as hosts for alien babies), “I don’t know which species is worse.  You don’t see them fucking each other over for a Goddamned percentage”.

Too true.  Humans will be the death of the human race.

This system has become too complicated and corrupt.  The supply chain isn’t a chain any more, it’s a web and no-one has a clue what’s going on.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was cat, dog, rat and other unexpected things in the food some of us choose to buy.

There have been many studies warning that the human race is going to grow so big that, within 60 years, we won’t be able to produce enough food to feed the planet.  We’ll end up having to rethink what we eat.  Insects will become a primary source of protein.  I suspect we’re already there, we just don’t know it!

I’m a Systems Thinker.  If you’re not sure what that is look up Vanguard Consulting and check out some of the brilliant work these people do.  One of my favourite people is the head of this organisation, a man called John Seddon.

I learned Systems Thinking from him and I had the privilege of working with a few of his people about 10 years ago.  The experience changed my life, my perspective and the track of my career.  Part of my job is process consultancy and they key thing to understand in any system or process is what happens end to end.

John says, “It’s the system, stupid!” meaning that when strange behaviours happen, it’s the system that the people work within that drives it.  As a systems thinker, none of the horse-meat saga surprises me.  The behaviour of the people supplying each part of the process, trying to make a bit of money and constantly being squeezed is driven by fear, greed, constant pressure to deliver for less – in other words, the system created by the people at the head.

And at the head are the retailers.  People will try to blame all the other parts of the system but it’s those who have made the system that carry the blame.  They have lost lost sight of what’s important, put money before everything else, turned a blind eye and, ultimately, stopped caring for their customers – if they ever did in the first place.

This is one very good reason why I don’t buy processed food and I source my meat from local suppliers.  I understand my supply chain very well.  I buy from a butcher. The butcher is a partner in a farm.  The beef, pork, chicken comes from the farm, via an abattoir to the butcher.  Simple.  The beef is grass-fed, the pork is pastured and the chicken properly free range – and the difference in taste is unbelievable!

ChickensTake today (Sunday 3rd March) I’m cooking two chickens.  Free range, not that expensive – in fact, Tesco and Sainsbury are more pricey – and they are just different to anything else I’ve cooked.

When you pick them up, they’re soft, pliable, they flop in your hands, you can tell they’re more tender just by lifting them up.  I was quite excited explaining this to my wife.

They are beautiful things.  When I think about the last chicken we bought from a well-known retail giant, it was solid, heavy, probably full of water, likely finished on a grain diet to make it fat and just not that nice.

The taste is different too.  I have NEVER tasted anything like the chickens we buy now and my wife, who is the resident ‘chicken-picker-downer’ and really didn’t like handling the stuff, loves carving them and stripping the carcass once we’ve finished eating – she says the meat is like butter, beautiful, tender and juicy.

But that’s not the end of the chicken – no.  We make it last.  We eat one with roasted vegetables, then we have lots of meat left over.

Chicken

This will probably make two more meals, likely a curry and maybe something else, if we can keep our hands off – it’s just so lovely!

I’ll use some for the girls’ lunches and it’ll provide snacks if we’re feeling peckish.

Then there are the bones.  We waste nothing at all and we make a big batch of stock every week.

Stock

I can use a lot of stock (or broth) in a week because I’m always cooking casseroles, curries, soups and the stock we make is really tasty.  In fact, it’s so tasty I’ve started to drink it.

Really, drinking stock isn’t as mental as you think. I remember my Mum giving me an Oxo cube dissolved in boiling water as a wee boy – this is no different, just way tastier!

There’s a lot to be said for drinking bone broth and I have been reading this courtesy of my neighbour, who is also paleo, a systems thinker and a big fan of John Seddon – we’re always swapping notes!

ChickenFatThen there’s all the lovely juice that comes from a chicken.  I cool it down, skim off the fat and freeze the jelly to make gravy.

Our roasted veg is always done in the fat from the previous week’s chicken.  It makes the veg taste amazing!

You might think that all of this takes time. it’s too difficult, we all have busy lives, blah de blah!  No, it’s not difficult or time-consuming.

It’s cost-effective and it makes our food go further.  We can eek out 3 great family meals from two chickens, snacks and lunches for the kids, stock for soups, casseroles and curries, lovely light and pure fat for roasting veg and the base for gravy.  My family has never eaten so well or had such tasty food.

The key thing is, know what you’re buying.  Understand where it comes from, support your butcher, have a chat with him, find out about his supply chain, buy local, use it well.

Above all, though, just enjoy some really lovely grub!

Oh, and by the way, horse-meat is just meat.  The beef market is so expensive for manufacturers that, of course, people are going to look for other sources to bulk out their supplies and make some money.  Why does this surprise anyone?  It might actually be good for you, so say the BBC!

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