“I’m off to book club tonight, but if you don’t want to cook I think there’s a lasagne in the freezer.” As if in some show of solidarity with the sub-zero pasta dinner, my wife and I also momentarily freeze. I know what we’re both thinking; could this be one of those horse lasagnes?
We’re dealing with a premium lasagne here, so although it should be Dobbin-free, I’m forced to concede that I’ve no real way of knowing. I’m too tired to scratch cook tonight and besides, what have I got against eating horses? I steel myself and turn the dial to 180 to pre-heat the oven. I’m spouseless for the evening and I’m eating dangerously on the edge of the gastronomic unknown. I’m a ready-meal rebel, the kind of guy who only pierces the film in one place.
As I sit listening to the somewhat intermittent hum of the oven fan, the fan that I thought I’d fixed last week, I have to confess that I’m still uncomfortable. It’s not the thought that my dinner might have conceivably run in the 2:40 at Kempton Park, no, it’s more fundamental than that.
The Financial Times columnist Robert Shrimsley has articulated my unease; “What really troubles us, of course, is less the presence of horse than the notion that no one has the slightest idea what is being put in our food” writes Robert. He makes a few more good points too , but we soon part company as he begins to lament his own household’s inevitable return to the world of organic food, a world he suspects is inhabited by gullible chumps.“We were so sucked into the cult that even the guinea pigs ate organic. But as the kids grew up we began to scale back, realising that perhaps we had bought into the concept a little too deeply.”
But isn’t organic food all about food integrity? Shrimsley’s failure to see the relationship between these two issues reminds me of my oven fan again and failed connections of a different kind. It’s pretty obvious to me that consumer are bound to return to organic at times like this. It’s inevitable simply because horsegate engenders a distrust of the current food system.
Regardless of who is to blame, the inescapable truth is that food has become ever cheaper and corners had to be cut to achieve this. OK, some of the cost reductions come down to economy of scale and technology, but the intensification of food production often shifts inherent cost elsewhere.
When we buy cheap food some of the cost is paid for with the diminishing health of the soil, the crops, the animals and the nutritional content of our food.
Indeed, when it all gets too cheap, such are the economic pressures on the supply chain that it’s not always possible to know whether what you’re eating even matches up with the information on the packet.
When you buy organic, you’re buying into a parallel food system which takes a different approach. Organic farmers and food manufactures realise that when you do things with care, responsibility and with one eye on the future you need to differentiate yourself.
This is why organic operators submit to rigorous inspections and certification to ensure that their products not only fall into line with organic principles and standards, but are traceable right back to the farm. As for buying in ‘too deeply’ , as Robert puts it, can you buy too deeply into doing the right thing by animals, the environment and your own health? I think not.
I resolve not to beat myself up for buying a non-organic lasagne. It was quite tasty actually. What I equally won’t do is give myself a hard time for spending the extra money I do on organic. As a parent and a lover of wildlife it always made sense to me, but now I’m particularly appreciating the independent assurance I’m getting that my dinner is all that should be.
By Lee Holdstock, Soil Association