You are what you eat

Steak
A lot of people have asked me over the past couple of months, ‘Kevin, when are you going to write about the horsemeat debacle in Mixed Blessings?”. So today is as good as time as any. Mixed Blessings with Kevin Blessing

A lot of people have asked me over the past couple of months, ‘Kevin, when are you going to write about the horsemeat debacle in Mixed Blessings?”. So today is as good as time as any.

Mixed Blessings with Kevin Blessing

here is always a flip side to any particularly poor scenario. The whole horsemeat scandal has been a perfect case in point.With social media sites overloaded with jokes about ‘The Horse Outside’, and now inside the Supermarket.

There is something deep rooted in Irish folklore about the horse, it’s ingrained in our blood, carved into our DNA and something integral in being Irish to love animals, but we all have a special place in our hearts for the horses that have been work mates and friends for hundreds of years.

We all grew up thinking we’d be John Wayne or Clint Eastwood one day, happily saddled on our trusty mount, and riding off into the sunset at the end of the movie. I mean, look at the annual exodus that went to Cheltenham last week; even at the bottom of the worst recession, we Irish can still pack up man, woman and child, to head across the water to celebrate the sport of Kings.

I think that’s why there was such an outrage of public reaction to the shocking revelations that there was traces of horsemeat in our food chain, that horses that had stood in our fields had ended up in lasagnes and burgers.

It’s just disgusting to us as a people. I have a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that there is more to come out of all this yet. What else is in the food chain that shouldn’t be, I wonder?

When they started looking for horsemeat, they found it everywhere. What will happen if they start looking for other food stuffs that shouldn’t be in the food chain? What else is being used to beef up our beef and to fill out our flour, our wheat.

Where else are corners being cut and profit margins forced out of inappropriate products being put into our diet?

What’s the long-term effect on our children, and twenty years from now, will we be facing massive hospital bills for a generation that grew up eating processed food, food that we were unaware of what was in the ingredients of these pre made meals?

But I think we have ourselves to blame. Yep, sorry but its true, and the sooner we accept our culpability in this, the sooner we might get around to being able to do something about it and make sure the food we eat is not compromised again.

You see the old adage, ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’; has never been truer when it comes to food.

How could you raise a calf, feed it, nurse it, winter it, slaughter it, process it, butcher it, cook it, put in pasta, tomato sauce, herbs, spices, salt and cover it over in cheese, all for just three euro!!!

We are all under financial pressure and leading busy lives, it is tempting to pick up something that is going to be easy to cook (just bake in a pre heated oven for 20 minutes and serve) feed three people and make no mess, as there is no washing up. Yep, it’s too good to be true.

Ladies and gentlemen I have a shocking tip for you in terms of affordable cooking. It’s called fresh food. It will cost you no more, and you will have peace of mind knowing what you are eating - better again, you will know where it came from.

Don’t get me wrong for one little second, I am a meat and spuds man to the core, but that’s the very point. Over the last year or two, I have stopped eating anything that comes in a cardboard box ready for the microwave, and started eating more fresh meat.

I have never felt better for it, I have even shed a few pounds ahead of my wedding as a result of eating little or no processed food, mixed together with a regular session on the bike, and astro soccer in Drumshanbo on Tuesday nights.

But this is the good side of the whole horsemeat scandal. We are now just starting the journey of understanding the real value of the food we eat.

Any of us in Leitrim don’t need to be told the farmer at the end of the food chain has been getting screwed for too long by big processing plants, who are taking too big a margin.

In turn, the supermarkets are taking too big a slice for just putting the food on the shelf. I think the outcome and lesson we learn as a result of all this is that we truly start to value the sources of our food. I am fortunate enough to have a brother-in-law who is a class butcher, Mickey Scollan in Ballinamore.

Since the horsemeat scandal, he has seen an increase in people coming in to buy fresh meat from local farmers. This has also led to extremely busy marts around the county in Carrigallen, Drumshanbo, Dowra, Manorhamilton and Mohill.

Mickey and the local farmers are obviously delighted, but if it was me, I’d be a bit annoyed. He and every other butcher in the country have been offering the same service for years, yet it takes a shock like finding out there is sub-standard food in our processed lasagne’s and burgers to make us really think about where and who we are purchasing our meats and food from.

We are blessed to live in the land in which we live, with fresh water, green fields, with fat calves and the best veg in the world.

We have the highest food safety standards in the world and the level of quality control in all aspects of the industry is impeccable; remember it was us that discovered the horsemeat in the food chain through our testing.

I think we really need to start valuing what we have. We need to accept we have to pay a fair price for a fair feed. We need to start realising that the only people making money out of easy to cook processed foods are the shareholders of big conglomerates who make their profit margins through making the food cheap and selling you expensive fancy packaging.

Never before has it been more important to us to shop local, never for our health and the health of our local economy has it been more important to realise that food cannot be bought for less than it costs to produce.

If you do one thing this March, this year of The Gathering, this month of national celebration, pull on the green jersey, go down to your local butcher, buy some Irish Spring lamb and some nice fresh spuds and be happy to pay the fair price for it.

Remember – you are what you eat.