In light of horse meat outrage, one look at how we choose our food

April 30, 2013

Last week, a former cattle slaughterhouse in New Mexico moved one step closer to becoming the only plant in the United States that slaughters horses. Valley Meat Company in Roswell was found to be in compliance by USDA inspectors.

The plant’s owners say they can process as many as 100 horses a day, which will be sold for human consumption in Eastern Europe and Asia. The slaughterhouse is a target for animal advocates who say horses aren’t meant to be eaten. Opponents have left threatening, violent messages for the family that runs the plant.

The debate over whether horses can be food has been especially furious in the past several months. Earlier this year, meats in the United Kingdom were found to contain horse meat, even though they were labeled as beef or pork.

It’s the latest in a long line of scandals about the meat many of us buy and eat. Think of the scare over mad cow disease, or more recently, "pink slime" masquerading as beef.

Do any of us actually know what's in the food we eat? And how do we choose what food products to buy? KJZZ's Nick Blumberg asked one woman to walk him through her decision-making process at the grocery store. He brings us this audio postcard.


mural Mareena Sweat shops for groceries at a Fry's Food Store in Gilbert, Ariz. (Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)

“My name’s Mareena Sweat and I live in Mesa, Arizona. We had some changes in our house recently. One of the kids in our house has food allergies: he’s allergic to corn, tomatoes, pork, and 13 other things. So I really have to pay attention to everything that I buy now and try to plan meals around those kind of things.

We always have yogurt, some fruits and vegetables, bread, butter, milk, cereal, some kind of beef, some kind of chicken, and maybe some hamburger. Pineapple’s on sale, so maybe I’ll get one of those, too.

I was brought up more as — you know, we ate everything, we ate cow tongue and liver and onions, so if I’m not going to get sick from it and it tastes good, I’m okay with it.

I do worry a little and I’m concerned, like when the scare with the pink slime [happened], I thought, ‘Ugh, that’s not really the greatest thing that I could be feeding my kid.' But in general, I’m pretty sure that I’m feeding them good-quality stuff. I buy, probably, some processed meat and some fresh meat. I tend to buy hamburger and sometimes I buy things like corned beef hash in a can.

I think that the chemicals that are in foods now are more concerning than if it was, you know, a meat that I was unfamiliar with. There’s a type of chip that the boys like that, after reading the ingredients that are in it, it’s no longer allowed at our house. Ninety percent of the things in there are chemicals that I can’t even recognize.

We’ve been eating a lot more chicken and turkey now that we have a pork allergy, because we used to eat sausage or pork chops, but we have to change everything that we do. There are some good chicken sausages that I’ve been getting that everyone seems to like.

Now that baseball season’s started, we have very little time for dinner at all. We have to do something quick so we can have something besides fast food every night.

I saved nearly a third based on shopping with coupons and [buying] things on sale. Have to be happy with that. None of it’ll go bad. Hopefully!”