Nobody could have missed the media circus surrounding the horsemeat found in products from Tesco, Findus and Aldi 'beef' products in recent weeks. Even if it has not affected your approach to food the impact the news has on the food industry, particularly those pre-prepared ready meals and frozen products, are predicted to be 'disastrous'.
So, what has this got to do with students?
As anyone who has ever lived in Halls will know, a decent proportion of students and young people consume ready meals and frozen meat on a regular basis. It may not bother many to think that the beef burger they ate may have contained other meats aside from beef, but if a monumental slip-up such as this can happen, what else could - or already has - happened?
Horsemeat is not unsafe (although presumably no healthier than other red meat), but this isn't really the point. The 'chaotic' nature of ready meal nutrition has been well investigated; the University of Glasgow found that out of 67 meals they tested, 'almost half (32) did not contain enough calories to constitute a meal, while others (10) had over 700kcal.' This might seem a distant drawback to food that is essentially quick, filling and convenient. But considering that '77% of Britons are unaware of the high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat hidden in their favourite foods', it is clear that the ready-meal is a nutritional and ethical minefield. A minefield that students negotiate frequently.
On the one hand, manufacturers are not aware - or, even more worryingly, are completely aware - of what is going into their products. On the other, many people are not aware of what is going into their shopping baskets, or their mouths. The poor nutritional content of these ever-popular foods has already been linked to the rise in obesity, heart disease and more. So, perhaps a more fitting question to ask would be: how doesn't the horsemeat scandal affect students?
Even if you're a vegetarian, vegan or committed home-cook, the issue of trust between customers and large food companies has been thrown into question. Even healthy, meat-free products like soya and quinoa are becoming the subject of debate. The ethics of food sourcing and production has become pertinent to all, the brand-spanking new Freshers of each new academic year being some of the most vulnerable consumers. This is where your maintenance loan is going, after all. I don't know about you, but I would rather be getting what I thought I was paying for.
Maybe new sources of meat would actually help to ease the strain on global resources, but for now one important fact remains - students cannot know for sure what is going into their lasagnes and cottage pies. It is no longer a matter of knowing your RDAs. However, the matter is not entirely out of students' hands.
Buying, preparing and cooking fresh food is and has always been the safest, cheapest and healthiest option by far. Understandably, many students are reluctant to take time out of their schedules to do so, but you don't have to be Heston Blumenthal to make an honest meal. For the proof, visit TrampStudent for money-saving tips, recipe ideas and time-saving shortcuts. Quit horsing around (...couldn't resist).
Follow Amy Murnan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TrampStudent