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Processed food is cheaper? What a load of old horse

18 February 2013
Processed food is cheaper? What a load of old horse

There's a line from a song that goes "A horse is a horse of course of course" but it turns out that a horse can be anything from a burger to a lasagne and everything in between.

There has been uproar recently due to the discovery of horse meat in various food products. There is nothing wrong about eating horse meat that has been butchered properly, however selling horse meat as beef is wrong. All sorts of excuses have been offered and all sorts of fingers pointed. Stories surfaced of the East European mob indulging in equine smuggling, while others claimed that false passports had been used to trick abattoirs into processing horse meat as beef. Call me a cynic but if you need a passport to tell the difference between a horse and cow then maybe working in an abattoir is not for you.

Throughout this ever-evolving story we heard time and again how people were forced to buy ready meals that contained these tainted meat products as they couldn't afford to buy proper food. Countless people were interviewed outside the entrances of the big supermarket chains bemoaning the cost of food and claiming that they were utter shocked and appalled by what was going into their food. While I can't disprove people's claims to study the ingredients listed on the back of a frozen lasagne with the intensity normally reserved for a particularly racy passage in 50 Shades of Grey, I can examine the claim that people only buy ready meals to try and save money.
A Sainsbury's own brand Spaghetti Bolognese costs £2.20 for 400g, so how much would it cost to buy the ingredients to make your own?

Well by using Sainsbury's website and buying own brand products, not their economy range, where possible here is what I worked out:

100g of Beef mince £0.60
100g of Onion £0.10
2 Cloves of Garlic £0.05
100g of mushrooms £0.24
100g of spaghetti £0.18
100g of tinned tomatoes £0.25
1 stock cube (with bolognese seasoning) £0.12
Total cost £1.54

I have started with over 500g of ingredients to allow for loss of volume through the cooking process to give you a similar cooked weight as the ready meal.

People need to take responsibility for what they eat. Years of demanding cheaper and cheaper food that requires virtually no effort to prepare has led to this situation. It's no coincidence that areas for ready meals and frozen meals in supermarkets get bigger while areas for fresh produce get smaller. You can't blame supermarkets they are only reacting to customers' demands. Blaming them for what's going into your food is pointless, if you want to be 100% sure of what exactly is going into your food then buy the ingredients yourself, after all it's not only healthier, it's cheaper.

Dave Ahern, guest head chef at the House of Wolf, London

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