Maybe its time to quit buying food from discount furniture superstores.
By CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
Less than two weeks after Ikea announced it was pulling frozen meatballs out of stores in a dozen countries after they had been found to contain horse meat, the Swedish-based company last week withdrew frozen chocolate-almond cake from stores in 23 countries because it was contaminated with ready? fecal bacteria.
Neither recall affects products sold at U.S. stores. Yet.
This news, combined with horse meat scandals at European outposts of Burger King and Taco Bell, has earnest TV anchors this side of the Atlantic asking: Should you be worried?
I know whats in my meatballs. I make them myself. Thats them in the photo, part of a smorgasbord I prepared recently. They contain ground pork and beef from a local butcher who buys from local producers that dont use hormones. Also fresh bread from a local baker, a free range egg, freshly ground nutmeg and cardamom.
After I brown the meatballs, they finish cooking in a yummy sauce made from pan drippings and organic sour cream. They taste out-of-this-world.
But, of course, superior flavor is not why Ikea sells 150 million meatballs a year, according to the companys figures. Customers flock to eat the frozen, reheated, processed meat-and-filler balls because they are cheap.
The siren song of cheapness proved as enchanting as ever March 8 when Ikea in Singapore brought back the meatballs with a one-day price of 10 cents each (the normal price is around $5 for 10). Lines were out the door all day, and the store sold approximately 10 times more meatballs than usual.
Leave it to Ikea, which has always used humor to great effect in its print ads and in risqué television commercials in Europe, to have the last laugh over the horse meat scandal.
The company took out a full-page ad in the Singapore Today newspaper that showed a plate of meatballs and the headline Its time to start jockeying for position again in our restaurants. The rest of the copy ends with the line, Its a deal you cant say neigh to.
And why not? Americans aversion to horse meat is cultural, not logical. We eat other cute barnyard animals: lamb, veal, rabbit. Whats the difference with horse?
In my book, horse meat would be the least repulsive ingredient of the oddities that pass for food at Taco Bell.
Id sooner eat 100-percent horse meat than a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco with the companys proprietary taco meat filling, which contains 33 ingredients including cellulose (wood pulp or other plant fibers), according to the companys own label.
My taco meat filling is 100-percent ground chuck with chipotle powder, ground cumin and salt.
If you want to quell your appetite because youre worried about getting into a swimsuit, just cruise the nutritional information area of Taco Bells website.
There, I learned that Taco Bell bacon contains: Fully Cooked Bacon Topping (Smoke Flavor Added). Cured With: Water, Salt, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Smoke Flavoring. May Contain: Sugar, Brown Sugar, Dextrose, Sodium Ascorbate, Flavoring.
My bacon is made in California, Mo., is dry cured and has no water or artificial ingredients added.
The real scandal is not horse meat but lack of transparency. Consumers have a right to know what is in processed foods so they can make an informed decision about whether they still want to ingest the horse meat and the cellulose because the price is right.
The director of the Institute for Food Security at Queens University in Belfast, Chris Elliott, explained the root of the problem in a New York Times story.
Wherever you have a high-value product and you can substitute it for a lower-value product, people will try to do so, Elliot said. Thats the history of the food industry, unfortunately.
With globalization, factory food chains have gotten so complex they are difficult to police.
The current scandal and inevitable future scandals will probably have close to zero impact on Taco Bells or Ikeas bottom lines. Thats because, shockingly, a lot of people think these cheap foodlike products taste good, and they will continue to buy them.
The rest of us can just shake our heads and keep rolling meatballs.