04 February 2013

Where's the beef? Or better yet, what's in the beef?

This week, the infamous fast food chain Burger King admitted that some of its burgers (in Britain and Ireland) contained something other than beef. Horse meat to be exact. Am I shocked at this? Absolutely not. Am I shocked at people’s outrage to this "scandal?" Actually I am. Or maybe disappointed would be the better term here. Let me tell you why...

I will start by saying that, as an ethical vegan, I do not advocate the consumption of any animals. But let’s take a different approach to the issue at hand for just a moment. A nutritional analysis will show you that horse meat is actually ‘healthier’ for you than meat from a cow. It has more protein and less fat. And it apparently tastes the same when mixed with beef, as evidenced by the fact that consumers of BK burgers have been swallowing this stuff down unknowingly for the past year. So why the public outcry over this? Most people will cite the logical response that as a consumer they are disappointed by the deceit of BK. They say the issue at hand is transparency. I have heard some even go so far as to say that they would be just as angered if they found out there was chicken in their "100% beef" burger. Their point being that although chicken is culturally acceptable to consume, they do not want to be lied to about what is in their food. If they are being told that they are eating beef from a cow, they want to have confidence that beef is exactly, and only, what they are eating.

Yet, Irish food safety officials broke the news in mid-January, that said 23 out of 27 beef burgers sampled were found to contain pig DNA. I don’t recall hearing too much about this. I don’t think I need to elaborate on why.

Burger King's admission to horse meat has prompted a Twitter campaign and threats of boycott. Many feel this will be the demise of the fast food chain. Although I firmly agree that what BK did was wrong, I can’t help but feel a bit frustrated at the lack of responsibility and connection on the part of consumers. The majority of Amercians eat pretty much anything they are served. When an unusual meat is prepared by a gourmet chef at a high end restaurant, they will pay top dollar, call it a "culinary experience" and salivate over it. Many of those same folks are now declaring that they will never eat BK again because it is just "so sad" what they did to the horses. If they are truly feeling sympathy for the animals, then why is their compassion reserved only to the equines? What about the duck, or the lamb, or the goat that they paid $50 to pair with their glass of wine?

If total transparency was truly the issue at hand, and the cause of the outrage, then wouldn’t people be flocking to factory farms to see where their meat comes from? Wouldn’t they sit and watch those horrific videos of animal slaughter that their vegan friends post on social media, rather than delete or ignore it? Wouldn’t they question how a beef burger can be sold for $1 but an organic piece of produce is not so cheap? Whether it is horse, cow, chicken, or pig, most of the meat consumed in America comes from CAFOs where the end product minimally contains bacteria, antibiotics and hormones. But you certainly won’t find that on the ingredient label. The only way to know exactly what is in your food is to grow your own. And though some carnivores may argue with me that there may be bacteria on my salad greens, all I can say is that it’s much more difficult to hide a horse in my kale than in your burger.

So I'm not sure transparency is the real issue here, though that's the logical, surface reason for feeling outrage. At a deeper level, I think the BK incident has made many people realize that they really DON'T know what they are eating more often than they want to admit. And if they really knew, they might need to change their diet significantly. And THAT is a scary and inconvenient truth to acknowledge.

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/scmikeburton