I am a lazy writer, too often waiting for inspiration to come along and nudge me into action. Sadly, my industry today has more to do with vexation than inspiration. Intense vexation in fact, caused by my having come across a stack of just-arrived Findus ‘not beef’ lasagnes in a Gambian supermarket. Vexation multiplied when a friend posted that the same said lasagnes had found their way to Lagos. I mean, exactly how fast do the wheels of market capitalism spin? Looked at in one way, I might be impressed with the logistical efficiency of frozen ready meals withdrawn from UK supermarket shelves one week finding themselves filling shop freezers in West Africa the next. But I am as far from impressed as the Findus lasagne chefs were from beef. What exactly did we do to deserve such dubious cast offs? I don’t think we can reasonably call this food aid. So I broadcasted my outrage as a facebook status update and got a lot of support from friends and family (yaay!) and then some of my friends and family shared the love, and opened me up to the thoughts of some of their friends and family who clearly thought my outrage was an overreaction. So here’s what I think about your objections
It’s better than being hungry – aren’t they just grateful to be eating?
A rather simplistic analysis a bit like claiming that having an asbestos roof is better than having no roof at all or that recipients of decaying second hand refrigerators should stop harping on about the ozone layer and CFCs and be thankful to get their water chilled. In short, the old adage that beggars can’t be choosers. It’s also based on certain assumptions a) that these meals were donated ‘free of charge’ (not true) b) that people in Africa are by definition hungry, and c) that mass produced frozen ready meals (with or without horse meat) are genuinely nutritious. So add to simplistic, offensive and naive then.
It’s only horsemeat. If it’s good enough for the French, why not others?
Leaving aside the fact that it’s been labelled and sold as BEEF, it is apparently not, in fact only horsemeat. I’m sure the French would confirm that it is nothing like the regulated, reared for human consumption product available in France. In contrast, this particular meat product took time to track down, most likely slaughtered in abattoirs in Romania that no one seems to know much about and then bought and sold across a myriad of countries including Cyprus, Luxemborg, France, the Netherlands and Ireland. I doubt that anyone would want to vouch for exactly what added extras may or may not have found their way in but suggestions include phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug given to horses and commonly known as BUTE. Once upon a time, several decades ago, human beings were prescribed BUTE for gout and arthritis. Then some of them got a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia which, without prompt treatment, was (and still is) considered to be life-threatening. Then BUTE was banned for humans and forbidden from entering the food chain. The End. Oh no it wasn’t the end after all because two weeks ago we discovered that we’d been scoffing down unregulated horses and their nasty drug habits for years. What an epilogue. Anyway, to get to the point, it doesn’t matter how much people try to play it down, if this particular horsemeat isn’t good enough for people in Europe to eat, Africa doesn’t want it either, especially in packaging that still tells us it’s BEEF.
Perhaps it’s been sitting in African freezers since before the scandal broke. Shouldn’t you give them the benefit of the doubt?
We’re talking small-scale minimarkets here, not superstores with huge warehouses and products stacked high and wide. We’re talking about a place where the arrival of new products is (as humiliating and sad as this is to admit) a regular topic of conversation. Besides which anyone who’s spent any time here knows that a prerequisite for importing processed foods into West Africa is that they should either beyond or perilously close to their sell-by dates. So no people, no benefit of the doubt here. The sudden arrival of heaps of frozen ready meals that don’t expire next month should always be viewed with extreme suspicion.
I blame the Africans who are importing these things
If you like. I don’t particularly object. Of course Africa should be more aware, more vigilant, and of course we should put the health of our children above the profits to be made through selling bad food (FYI the lasagne that retailed for £1.60 in the UK is, as I speak being sold for the equivalent of £2.13 here, so the agenda here is definitely profit, rather than charity). However, I think it’s fair to say that everyone involved in this particularly sordid supply chain with its deep cynicism, greed and criminal intent should stop trying to shrug the blame onto other people in other places and take responsibility now.
So perhaps Findus would like to drop by and set up a temporary information desk in sunny Banjul. It’s all well and good telling customers to return withdrawn products for a full refund, but when your customers are 3000 miles away and need a visa to reach you that’s a lot to expect. Akin, I would say to closing the stable door when the horse is already half way through a worldwide tour. That’s what the lazy writer thinks anyway. And her non-new year resolution is to stay out of supermarkets and spend more time at the keyboard. Pray for her y’all.