Ron Bendell: Effect of the horse-burger outrage will be ... nothing
Sorry about the geographical name dropping, but driving across the high Andes one morning we stopped off at a primitive truck stop where, to my horror, I soon noticed dozens of small animals scampering about and disappearing into holes in the skirting board. This was either rats or the effects of the local gut rot I'd been drinking the night before.
It soon transpired, however, that the creatures were guinea pigs who nested in a honeycomb of tunnels in the adobe walls of the building and lived in peace with the human occupants. But the rent extracted from the rodents was heavy. At any moment one could be grabbed, dispatched and chucked in the oven.
Later, in a more salubrious establishment, I tried the dish for myself. It was horrible. Still, it had to be done.
Similarly, no visit to France or Belgium can be complete without bracing yourself with beer and bravado and ordering a nice bit of horse. And who could resist sampling the donkey salami that's a speciality in towns and villages right round the Mediterranean? You've enjoyed the ride along the beach, now eat the sausage.
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Assuming I'm not alone in these experiences, the great wave of shock and disgust that flooded the nation when it was revealed that some low-priced burgers were found to contain horse flesh came as a bit of a surprise. Surely the most staggering fact to emerge was that these flabby brown discs of "stuff" contained any meat at all.
Ironically the news was given a very warm welcome from a most unlikely source. Veggies and vegans across the land saw this as a great way to get converts. While the illogical British mind may have long accepted the thought of doe-eyed calves being hurled into mincers, contemplating a similar fate for Dartmoor ponies was bound to tip the dietary balance.
Quick to take advantage was Linda McCartney Foods, the meat-free food company, which predicted that in just a couple of years the number of vegetarians would double and others would become "flexitarian" thereby avoiding meat at certain meals.
To pour cold water on these hopes is dangerous for a chap in my position. There are some topics – hunting, badger control, wind farms, happy-clappy vicars – that are guaranteed to get the letters pouring in, but to attack the lovers of buckwheat bake and nut loaf is a bit like printing cartoons of the Prophet. Even now in yurts across the Westcountry organically grown brown rice sandals are being rewoven into nooses.
All I can say is that history is on my side. The first organic restaurant opened in 1847 when about five per cent of the UK population refused to eat meat. Such has been the success of that and the entire movement in the century-and-a-half since that the number of vegetarians now is, er, five per cent. Sorry, but whatever publicity they gain and dreams they have, our taste for roasts, steaks, chops and even burgers remains constant.
Perhaps this is because – get the letters and nooses ready – those who would deny us meat come across as such a self-righteous and humourless lot. Like teetotallers and non-smokers they have an air of piety that would have made Oliver Cromwell look positively gay.
Proof of this has been further news that a group of vegans is planning to stage in London the public branding of a volunteer – yes, human – to expose the way we treat animals bred for the table. It has already been done in Tel Aviv, I read, to some poor bloke who had to be forcibly held down as the red hot iron was applied to his skin. Just what you want to see on the way to the pub.
Two thoughts. First, I can't think of a single person who would be won over to the cause if they witnessed such horror. Second, how on earth do these folk imagine livestock is actually treated on our farms? Have they ever ventured out of Camden?
Sadly, no space here to set out the true picture of welfare but I think you would have to be a bit of a twerp to think that farmers set out to make the life of animals a misery. That way lies shame and bankruptcy. And there's a crisp tenner for anyone who can show me one who uses a branding iron.
As for me, even though I love eating them, any animal that's passed through my hands over the years has been treated with respect and dignity. Just don't ask me to house-sit the guinea pig.