No Horsin’ Around: Getting Real about Consumers and the Food Industry

Easter is just around the corner and that means it’s the season of the lamb (and not just the Lamb of God). It’s the season of lamb dressed with rosemary accompanied by a heaping side of mashed potatoes, or perhaps a main dish of a roasted turkey with a side of tart cranberry sauce, or maybe a nice plump honey-glazed ham, or even thick hunks of prime rib in a delectable marinade, or, to really impress, piping red-hot lobster slathered in butter. Now that mouths are surely watering, I’d like to direct the attention to one of the missing items in the list of acceptable holiday eatery: horse meat.

This recent UK horse meat scandal has left a number of areas ripe for critique and scrutiny, including the ethics and regulations of slaughterhouses and the hypocrisy involving the choice of which animals to eat. I would like to explore the reason this revelation is so disturbing to the general public. While the horse meat scandal has shocked the world, I believe that it begins to touch upon much deeper issues that lie with the state of, and fate of, the world of food and nutrition. The issue can be examined with two pressing topics:

  1. Consumers don’t always know what they’re eating
  2. Consumers don’t always care what they’re eating (as long as it tastes good)

The first argument seems to be a very legitimate one that centers on trust. If we are led to believe that we are consuming something, and we’re really consuming something else, how can we trust what we are eating? Horse meat, however, is just the most recent and media-frenzied phenomenon. In reality, many products are unregulated and/or misleading.

Cracked.com, a humorous but factual editorial website addresses some prime examples in their online articles, “The 6 Most Horrifying Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You” and “The 6 Creepiest Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You.” These articles highlight various products that either have secretly added ingredients or just straight facedly lie about the contents of the product. After reading that honey wasn’t FDA regulated and that orange juice was made from zombie (long expired) oranges, I began to be a little more aware of what I was consuming. Just for kicks, I started picking up honey packets when I saw them and reading the ingredient list. Instead of “honey,” I was greeted with “sugar,” “corn syrup,” and “high fructose corn syrup.” To be fair, the packets usually read, “honey glaze,” which presumably translates to “honey.” Not so! There are a number of liquid sweets that follow this style, including syrup. Unless it says, “100% Natural Maple Syrup” on the bottle, you’re pouring a highly processed and insulin-spiking puddle all over your waffles. At the end of the day, just know that IHOP won’t provide customers with maple syrup.

The second concern is that consumers just don’t care what they are eating. This somewhat relates to the first issue, but it has a significant deviation: people don’t really care what they are putting into their bodies. Taco Bell had a scandal a few years ago in which it was revealed that the contents of their “ground beef” contained a gluten-based mixture that rarely actually contained meat. When consumers care about what they are putting into their bodies and the food industry lies to them, there should definitely be concern and public outcry. But I find it arguably more disturbing that consumers don’t really care what they are putting into their bodies. Now this may seem to be a point of judgment, and perhaps it is.

But it is illegitimate to get upset about horse meat on the grounds for needing to know what ingredients are in food products when the majority of consumers don’t even care what they are eating. Unless an individual is consuming an all- natural, Paleolithic diet or hand-making or home growing their own food, consumers really don’t know what is going into their body. Polydextrose? Maltodextrin? Indigotine? Disodium Ribonucleotides 5?? It sounds like “Archaeopteryx” would fit right in there. Haha, dinosaur joke. These additives can be as harmless as salt preservatives, or as sinister as the same chemicals that make the bases of cleaning bleaches. Just because something says “cereal” on the box does not mean that a body knows how to process it.

With the recent New York Times article “It’s the Sugar, Folks” being considered a breakthrough in nutritional studies, there should arguably be more concern for what we’re putting into our bodies.

However, at the end of the day, it’s all about personal preference and priorities. It seems silly to spend so much time hyping on nutrition when cancer sticks (excuse my reverse euphemism) are considered widely socially acceptable, and even encouraged in certain circles. I felt that the horse meat scandal brushed lightly over some topics that I was willing to press into. Perhaps the scandal will make someone think a little before they bite into that burger. Perhaps people will give GMO labeling a more serious consideration. Or perhaps it’d be easier to keep the blinders raised.

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