I know I usually use this blog to discuss weightier subjects, but I just can’t resist any longer.

For we veggies, the news over the past few weeks just gets better and better, causing us greater and greater merriment.

UnknownHow we smirked at reports that Tesco ‘value’ (now there’s a word that should ring alarm bells whenever applied to meat products) burgers were more Dobbin than Daisy. Even more so when this resulted in some 10 million suspect burgers being removed from supermarket shelves. In the days that followed, supermarket after supermarket, even Waitrose (truly, nothing is sacred) followed suit; then Burger King revealed its burgers were also contaminated with horsemeat. Yesterday, it was reported that, rather than being bovine, some Findus ‘beef’ lasagne is, in fact, 100% equine. It was at that point that I finally cracked. As I heard the news on the radio, I found myself doing a little celebratory dance around the kitchen. (Not, I should point out, because I have anything against Findus. There was a time in my life when I lived on their crispy cheese pancakes.)

Vegetarians may be above eating fowl, but we are certainly not above feeling cocky.  As the FSA gives all British companies a week to test their meat products, we smug non-meat-eaters are waiting, salivating even, for more stomach-churning horror stories.

Vegetarians: not above crowing about horse meat scare

Vegetarians: not above crowing about horse meat scare

Of course, I’m not suggesting there is anything inherently more repulsive about eating horse than any other kind of meat. As Jonathan Safran Foer so eloquently explains it in his majestic book Eating Animals, the kind of animals eaten is wholly culturally determined. Clearly, there is no logical basis for our eating rabbit, beef and lamb, but feeling queasy at the thought of, say, dog, horse and guinea pig.

While the public seems to have greeted the revelations more with humour than outrage, responding with a series of lame (see what I did there?) horse jokes, the official response has been even lamer. The Environment Secretary said the contamination was ‘completely unacceptable’ (no shit, Sherlock!); the head of the Food Standards Agency pronounced it ‘highly likely there has been fraudulent activity’ (ditto); but went on to reassure everyone there was no risk to human health. How she knows this when, by definition, no one has a clue at this stage where the rogue meat came from, is anyone’s guess. A Downing Street spokesperson – displaying more wit than we normally associate with such people – described the situation as ‘distasteful’.

The only person talking any sense seems to be the shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, who called on the government to give guidance on whether people should, at this stage, be eating any processed beef – sorry, I’ll try that again – processed ‘beef’ products. Creagh said: ‘I certainly wouldn’t, but I’m waiting for the government, the experts, the scientists to tell us and issue proper clear guidance.’

(Well, while you’re waiting, Mary, love, may I suggest you take yourself off to the nearest bookshop (if such things still exist) and score yourself anything you can find by Rose Elliott, the doyen of vegetarian cooking (the woman is a goddess). I discovered Rose when I was barely out of my teens and have never looked back.)

Even if the FSA head is right and there are no risks to human health (and this kind of processed, pre-prepared pap is exactly the kind of stuff that tends to get foisted on vulnerable groups, like children and elderly), there is still plenty of cause for alarm. If no one knows where the meat came from, no one knows anything about the conditions in which these animals lived and died. I don’t know a lot about the illegal meat trade, but would hazard a guess that those involved aren’t overly worried about meeting even minimum animal welfare standards.

For anyone tempted by recent events to bin their bacon butties, or kick their chop habit, and join the ranks of the smug veggies, below is a guide to answering the questions you will inevitably face when people learn you are now A Vegetarian:

 Q: Do you eat chicken/fish?

A: No of course not. I just told you, I’m a bloody vegetarian, you idiot!

Q: Do you eat lamb?

A: Huh?!?’ (I have actually been asked this, and given we had just been discussing the fact that I don’t eat meat, concluded that no there was sensible answer I could give.)

Q: Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian?

A: I am not sure you will find that is entirely historically accurate. Even if it is, are you suggesting there is some connection between this and his genocidal tendencies? Also, how come no one ever mentions that every other murderous despot you can think of (Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Pol Pot, Stalin, et al) was a carnivore?

 Q: What do you eat instead of meat?

A: Everything else! (Asking a long-term veggie what they eat ‘instead’ of meat is akin to asking someone who has never had an interest in philately what they do instead of collecting stamps.)

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