Where’s the beef?

For the French, most kinds of meat are fair game.

France is at the center of a fraudulent beef scandal. It came from abattoirs in Romania to a meat plant in the south of France, which sold it to a French-owned frozen food plant in Luxembourg, which then distributed it in ready meals to 15 different countries.  Labeled ‘100% beef,’ it was in fact horsemeat. Gulp.

To the best of my knowledge I have never eaten horse. But I have consumed creatures that many more sensitive souls would eschew: rabbit, lamb, ostrich, wild boar and other game, along with tripe and various organ meats. The fact is that from the cru to the rosé, eating our furry friends is central to French culture.

One of the first dishes I was served on arriving in Paris some years ago was the Easter bunny –  all dressed up in a mustard sauce and including a tiny head, which my mother-in-law devoured with relish (pleasure, not the condiment.)  I closed my eyes and focused on the wonderful taste of the sauce while reminding myself that it really was a lot like chicken.

That early test of culinary sang-froid taught me to be a broad-minded carnivore. I’m now accustomed to shopping at the market and seeing poultry with head and feathers still attached, suckling pig roasted whole, fish so fresh it’s still flopping. And although I do avoid it nowadays, I must confess to having consumed my share of pâté de foie-gras (apologies to the geese and my vegetarian friends).

Cruel, did I hear you say? Well, yes, but in defense of my fellow countrymen it should be noted that the French revere their food and all of this is carried out with a healthy degree of respect for the animal. The idea of feeding hormones to livestock, for example, is abhorrent to the French. Agriculture in general is less industrialized and more sustainable. Portions are also smaller, and less food goes to waste than in North America. Did you know that every single part of the pig is edible?

As the affaire de la viande de cheval (horsemeat scandal) rages in Europe, I must conclude that meat is really a matter of culture. While the French, Swiss and others who traditionally eat horsemeat complain about traceability, pity the poor Brits who unwittingly consumed Mr. Ed in their lasagna. Equivalent to eating a family pet.

But no matter how you look at it, someone is guilty of fraud, and that is a beef we can all share.