This first ran here in the Huffington Post.
The news broke this week that that water buffalo has been found in South African meat. It is pretty clear that what we think we are eating is never what it seems, and perhaps it never has been.
In recent weeks as this story has unfolded the media spotlight has turned from one culprit to the next. We’ve felt let down by our retailers, as Tesco in particular bore the brunt for being the first to put its head above the parapet.
We’ve felt let down by the regulators, as the Food Standard Agency (FSA) pointed to the retailers. We’ve also been bemused by a lot of things. On one level, trying to unravel who among Defra, the local authorities and the regulators is responsible is pretty bemusing.
But far more bemusing still has been the gradual realisation of what actually happens to our food between beast and bistro.
Over recent years several elements of the food industry have promoted themselves with romantic images of food provenance, as it has travelled “from farm to fork” or “from bean to cup”. There have even been moves to tag fishwith details of the catch they came in.
Some may have felt those wholesome pictures were a little too much to hope for. Nobody though could have been braced for the voyage of discovery finding out what does actually happen to our food between the paddock and the plate.
We’ve also felt let down by our brands. Findus was an early culprit. Many predicted it would not survive the scandal. It was criticised for not getting out in front of the story, for ‘letting the story happen to it’ (and perhaps rightly so).
For some there may have even been a sense that Findus was learning the lessons for having cut back on its communications team a couple of years ago. That, too, may be the case. Businesses that don’t have the importance of their reputation running through their DNA are more likely to lose them.
For all this though, there is a greater truth in play here. One that trumps everything.
Findus, Tesco, Waitrose, the FSA, everyone involved. They will all get away with it now. The scale and extent of this scandal will mean that people will simply want it to be over. Nobody wanted to know how their food was produced in the first place, and nobody will want to be reminded of it.
I’m intrigued to think that I might once have eaten something as exotic as a water buffalo, but I don’t want to know what part of it I might have eaten or how it got there.
This is the scandal that will go quietly away.