Lisa’s Letters Home: Whoa Nelly, What’s In Those Burgers?

Lisa’s Letters Home: Whoa Nelly, What’s In Those Burgers?

The big food-related news this week here in England was the discovery of horsemeat (horse DNA) in frozen burgers at some of our major supermarkets: I was surprised that this wasn’t just an issue with store’s own “value” burgers (where I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find an abundance of mystery meat), but in burgers with catchy names and a stylised photograph on the front.

What I found shocking wasn’t the presence of horse meat (because arguably, how is this less palatable than cow or venison?) but the absence of accurate information. The ingredients printed on the label were as follows: beef (99.2%), sea salt, cracked black pepper. Supermarket giants rely on their suppliers, which obviously isn’t working out too well for the likes of Tesco. It also makes me wonder: what else do we not know about?


I think there can be a sense of sanctimonious self-righteousness when people say that they never buy processed and everything is homemade. There is the implication that this makes them better parents because they care more about the health of their children, unlike you, lady throwing Happy Meals to your kids in the back of your SUV. (Also, do you know how much gas your car is using? Honestly.) I don’t think that homemade needs to be presented with smugness; it’s often easy to make and less expensive. Me, I’m all about being cheap and lazy. I’m also a bit of a control freak.

Label of store-bought chicken fingers, above.

For example, if you look at the Tesco web site, they charge £3.75/kg for their standard ground beef vs. around £6.00/kg for the equivalent in frozen “Flamehouse” burgers. Considering the frozen version only contains meat (of various origins), salt, and pepper, it doesn’t seem complicated to make them yourself and freeze them ahead of time. We always have a Canada Day barbecue and if we want to avoid premade burgers, my husband will make and layer dozens of burgers in huge trays lined with greaseproof paper. Better him than me, I say.

If we’re making burgers just for ourselves (i.e. not on a mass catering scale), I base my ingredients on this Jamie Oliver recipe: I have yet to make mine out of chuck that I’ve ground myself (only because chuck isn’t an easy but to come by in my area), but that would actually make the burgers even cheaper. It’s like the difference between buying a block of cheese and the pre-grated stuff. I find the egg and parmesan in Oliver’s recipe binds the burgers together without the need for bread, which might be relevant for those of you avoiding wheat.

We don’t completely avoid processed foods for our kids – we’d have a mutiny on our hands if we deprived our kids of Ketchup – but we want to make sure that whatever we feed our kids has pronounceable ingredients and holds no surprises for any of us.

Because you know what happened to the old lady who swallowed a horse…

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