THE BLOG

Forget Horse Meat - What Else Is Lurking in Your Dinner?

01/03/2013 11:57 GMT | Updated 30/04/2013 10:12 BST

We're all tired of reading about the horsemeat in cheap readymeals. After the initial shock value of eating a horse, we've gotten over it. Horsemeat isn't the issue. In fact, it's as normal as eating beef or chicken in many parts of the world.

The real issue is this: if horsemeat can be slipped into our readymeals - what else could be in there?

Aside from speculation about the many things that could end up in our meals (I'll leave that to your imagination), have you heard of Mechanically Recovered Meat (MRM), or its close cousin Baader Meat which may be slipping into our food supply through a legal loophole? This is not the kind of meat that you would choose to eat, IF you could see what it looks like. And that's exactly why we never see it - because if we did see it, most people would actively avoid it.

But when this meat-like substance is blended into our ready meals, we just go on eating, blissfully unaware.

And it's not just the meat that should concern us. There are lots of other ingredients in ready meals that you would never add to your home cooking: "firming agent - calcium chloride", maltodextrin, preservatives, and artificial colourings and flavourings, to list a few.

So where does that leave us, as consumers?

I understand that ready meals are convenient - but they should be used as an exception, as emergency rations, rather than form a primary staple of your diet.

Instead, we need to rediscover the basic guidelines that humans have used to feed themselves for generations:

Eat Real Food. Thank you to Michael Pollan for raising awareness about what constitutes real food: food that your great-grandma would recognize. Choosing real, whole foods in their natural state is the simplest way to know exactly what food you're eating.

Shorten your supply chain. Support local farmers, butchers and other suppliers who know exactly where that food came from. The more processed the food, the longer the supply chain - and the higher risk that something undesirable could be lurking in your meal.

Cook more. Unless you really like salads, you'll need to start cooking more to put these whole food ingredients to good use. Thanks to so many cooking programmes on tv, we often feel like cooking means preparing a gourmet meal. Not so. Let's take the pressure off ourselves and prepare simple, nourishing meals using real food ingredients. Hugh's 3 Good Things is a good place to start learning this way of cooking.

The horsemeat scandal has highlighted a bigger issue in our society today - we just don't know what we're eating. Spending money on local products and asking questions about your food will improve your diet and move us towards a more transparent food supply.