Of Horse and Men

Let’s face facts here: for most of us, the horsemeat scandal just isn’t that serious.
Oh, what it says about the food chain is serious enough. And what it says about the trust we place in institutions, too. But tell the average person that it’s possible they may have inadvertently eaten a smidgeon of Shergar and they’ll look a little shocked, then a little disgusted, for a moment, and then they’ll shrug and walk away.
They won’t eat ready-meal lasagne until the message comes through that they can, and as soon as that message does come through they’ll be back up those same aisles pushing to the back of their minds the inconvenient fact that it’s same people telling them it’s all OK now who failed to spot it in the first place.

So the first notable point is this: people don’t really mind having innocently eaten horsemeat in the past. What bothers them is the possibility of eating it knowingly in the future.

And then this story broke. I have two daughters who are or were recently eating school meals in Lancashire and suddenly I wasn’t quite so shruggy. Anxiously, I questioned elder daughter. No, she informed me, she does not like cottage pie. Relief all round. And then the bombshell. Oh no, Daddy. I had it once at school and I didn’t like it at all.
Younger daughter hath not the capacity to answer my probing questions but the nursery she is at takes hot meals from the school it forms part of, and I’ve seen the way she can demolish any given combination of meat and potato.

Pause for thought. It is possible that both of my daughters have eaten school horsemeat. Right now, there’s no obvious way to find out, although I imagine the county council will eventually have to publish a list of the affected schools. For a moment, and quite instinctively, I am outraged. I have placed my trust in these institutions and they dare to repay that trust by feeding horsemeat to my children?

It passes, the rage and righteous indignation. But it triggers further thought. By now the pair of them have already eaten all kinds of muck. Most of it I have provided, a fair bit of it I’ve cooked. Anyone who eats a cheap supermarket sausage has probably eaten far worse than a bit of horse. So why so angry when it’s school that’s done the feeding?

Because of the institution, of course. And isn’t that why we have institutions in the first place? To do all our thinking for us, to absolve us of responsibility for individual action, to take the blame if anything does go wrong.

Which is nonsense at best. There’s no difference between being fed horsemeat by your family and being fed horsemeat by your school.

And, more disturbing by far than finding a bit of fetlock in your Findus, surely the one thing that the last few years-worth of scandals across our institutions have taught us is that placing blind, unthinking trust in them is no longer an option.

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If you liked this, please comment and share, and don’t forget to take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Care here.

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