Waiter, There's a Horse in My Soup

Waiter, There’s a Horse in My Soup

You really have to feel sorry for the French. No matter how bad things ever got over there, no matter how many American troops had to pour into the country in 1917 and again in 1944, no matter how many embarrassing American billions got pumped into the French economy afterward, no matter how many unpolished American rubes they have had to put up with over the years snapping pictures of their boulevards or sitting in their cafes murdering their language, they could always console themselves with one incontrovertible truth: their food was superior to anything the Americans could come up with. Even the Americans admitted this.

The simplest of foods, prepared by French hands, were just better. Omelets were lighter, vegetables were never overcooked, sauces were delicate and perfect for the meats or fish they were artistically drizzled over. It was common knowledge that the French national religion of food preparation was the happy twin of its other national religion: food production. A drive through the French countryside was a peaceful parade of one bucolic farm after the other. In the villages, everyone had a garden in which they spent hours weeding, watering or just hovering lovingly over their opulent rows of lettuces and onions, beans and garlic. Market days in the main squares of old French towns were a glorious celebration of the produce that came out of these gardens and off of the farms. Mountains of luscious fruit and vegetables vied with long tables of spectacular blue-veined cheeses and butcher shop wagons full of plump fowl and gleaming cuts of pork, lamb and beef.

Did I say beef?

For it’s just a little bit embarrassing, you know, one almost doesn’t want to say it out loud, but it would appear the French food supply is not quite so stellar and farm-based and French as one has been led to believe. It would appear that some of the French, entirely without meaning to, of course, have been eating horse meat.

It started in Rumania at an abattoir which was supposed to be supplying beef, but it appears no one really checked this too closely. The French food giants who bought the supposed beef ground it up and made it into lasagna and then packaged this and sold it not only in France but in a number of other countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom and Germany, which was even more embarrassing. For if there were one thing the French could always pride themselves on, it was the superiority of their food to the English and German cuisines, as well as to the American.

In London, members of Parliament are crying foul. They want the horse-tainted products recalled. Germany also wants them recalled, but ever the more practical nation, has a plan to deal with the unwanted food. Two politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government have suggested that after the fine feelings of the more discerning and well-fed Germans are assuaged by recalling the horse meat lasagna, the government distribute these tainted products to the poor. They were perplexed at the public outcry over their suggestion. The poor need to eat, don’t they? They’re hungry, for heaven’s sake! Here’s a perfect opportunity to feed them without having to pay for it.

Of course, the other thing we’ve learned from this scandal, other than the European food inspection system needs to be tightened up a little, is an even more shocking truth. The French, and the Germans, and the English, and who knows maybe even the Italians, actually eat pre-packaged frozen lasagna! It isn’t just over-scheduled American families who have forgotten how or have no time to cook. Not every French and German family is sitting down to grandma’s homemade soup every night. It’s a shock, but there you are. Our illusions have been dashed.

Or have they? Because frankly I was in France this summer and the food was pretty darn good. I can’t remember ever having ordered beef, fortunately. I had cassoulet and fish and mussels and they were all excellent. The cheeses and croissants were definitely divine and we bought great gorgeous slices of nougat from a vendor in the above-mentioned marketplace that were out of this world. So I don’t think my image of French food superiority has been totally quashed, but I’ll keep it all in mind next time I’m over there, just in case, since I guess you never know when you might have to complain to the waiter that there’s a horse in your soup.