Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

So What’s The Beef?

We want it.  We want it a lot.  We want a lot of it.  And we want it cheap. 

Pi is talking about meat.  Europeans eat around 200 pounds of flesh per year each, while Americans annually gnaw their way through just under 270 pounds of meat per person.

To meet demand, worldwide meat production has more than quadrupled since the 1960s, and consumption is set to double again in the next forty years. Reasons include the emergence of a more affluent middle class in countries from Brazil to India to China.  One of the first things they want is more meat protein in their diet.

But not at any price.  The worldwide economic downturn means that consumers everywhere demand food products at economy prices.  Meanwhile the cost of rearing animals for the table has risen exponentially.  Something had to give.

Which is why Pi is not particularly surprised at the Europe-wide  “shock, horror” stories about horsemeat being sold as beef in processed meals.  “Chevaline” used to be a staple food in France and elsewhere, but changing tastes have barred it from the menu almost everywhere.  So how did this happen?

The process is actually easy to imagine.  The meat buyers at a big supermarket chain face rising demand for beef products at ever-lower prices, so they put pressure on their suppliers.  Their French supplier of microwave-ready “beef lasagne” buys meat at a set price from another French company, which commissions supplies from an agent in Cyprus, which uses another agent in the Netherlands, which sources its meat from a Romanian abattoir, where unscrupulous managers quietly substitute horsemeat for beef and pocket the extra profit.  Without widespread food testing, who’s to know? 

Until it all comes out, an industry is engulfed in scandal, and government agencies promise dire consequences for food retailers found guilty of deception.  Shock horror all round.

And yet it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that both supermarket chains and their customers are in some way complicit, or at least guilty of self-deception.  Did no-one ask themselves “Why am I getting this pure ground-beef-based product at this amazingly low price?” 

Pi says: food retailers seem to have been more interested in deniability than authenticity.  And deep down, there were things that committed meat-eaters just didn’t want to know.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Retail