Many years ago, I tried this crash diet that consisted largely of eating boiled eggs. I was an happy high school cheerleader with the right height and “wrong” size. I was a sturdy base who wanted desperately to be one of the petite girls on the team who were whimsically tossed into the air. A friend of my mother’s had lost weight, which she attributed to a diet of boiled eggs and water. Just like that, I traded in Big Macs for boiled eggs. (In retrospect, I could have just stopped with the Big Macs. But my sense of logic didn’t work so well back then.)
I was into my third dozen eggs when a curious thing happened. I cracked the shell of a boiled egg, broke it open and two grey yolks fell out. Some people might have thought, “Ooh! Two for one!” But I stared at the paper towel in horror. Twins, I thought. It hit me then that some chicken somewhere was expecting babies and I was eating them. For reasons I’m not quite sure of, I quit eggs, beef and pork that day in 1996. Two years later, I did away with poultry. I haven’t touched meat since.
That’s not a story I tell to offer a high-handed moralizing of eating versus not eating meat, or to convince you to change your diet. I don’t impose. What you eat is your business, American meat lovers. I just wonder if in the last few days, given certain news stories, you’ve ever questioned what’s in your food as I have.
A recent two-year study on American seafood found compelling evidence of “seafood fraud.” Researchers found fish sold as snapper and tuna were likely to be mislabeled, 87 and 59 percent of the time, respectively. Overall, one-third of all samples used for the study were misidentified out of over a thousand samples taken.
And this is why I empathize with carnivores. Over the last several days, major international companies, including Tesco, Nestlé and Ikea, have pulled food from shelves in 14 countries after tests showed that products labeled 100 percent beef actually contained small amounts of horse meat.
Tests of Taco Bell meat found traces of horse meat in Europe. Allegedly “100 percent beef” burgers from the UK shopping giant Tesco were found to contain 29 percent horse meat. Over in the Czech Republic, traces of horse meat were discovered in the iconic meatballs of Swedish furniture retailer Ikea. And in South Africa, researchers found that biltong, which is supposed to be dried antelope meat strips (a local delicacy), turned out to contain horse, pork, beef, giraffe or even kangaroo.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has assured the American public that this beef fraud scandal does not affect the American market as none of our beef supply comes from the European countries that found horse meat labeled as beef. The likelihood of a similar scandal in the U.S. wasn’t likely, the USDA added, because horse meat, not inherently harmful and oft-consumed in some parts of the world, cannot be sold for consumption here — at least not right now.
Recently, The New York Times reported that for the first time since 2007, the USDA may allow the opening of a horse meat slaughtering establishment in New Mexico. If approved, horse meat would not necessarily be available in the Unites States for human consumption any time soon, but it’s understandable that the risk for cross-contamination might be a legitimate fear, given the situation in Europe and the greater proximity of this meat.
Because, “federal regulations require slaughterhouses to choose either cattle or horses to process,” according to ABC News, there is “little risk of horse meat tainting the beef supply in those countries where it is distributed,” authorities say.
But is there no risk? That was not stated.
Clearly, I can’t trust that American fish is what it’s labeled to be, any more than Europeans can trust their beef, or South Africans can trust their biltong.
And the risk of Americans eating a little horse with their beef? Highly improbable, but not impossible. But perhaps that’s me jumping to far-fetched conclusions.
Then again, maybe not.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk.