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Dish of the day: We have an insatiable appetite for TV chefs like Nigella

I think this month I should address the nation's eating disorder — not the alleged fact that half of us are anorexic and the other half morbidly obese, but our understanding of food. When traces of horse were found in certain convenience foods it was for a few days as though the world had ended. Eating horse, however — something continentals routinely do, and something I believe even the occasional Englishman does, with the same embarrassed discretion that might normally be reserved for reading a novel by the late Barbara Cartland — never killed anyone. The practice does, though, raise the issue of where we think food stands in our life.

If you are paying pence rather than pounds for a burger, it is probably sensible to ask yourself what is likely to be in it. It won't be best fillet steak. It may well not be steak at all, but something that has been mechanically recovered from scraping meat left on bones if you are lucky. Indeed, next to that, a decent cut of horse is almost certainly superior. But, except for those eccentric types who like a bit of equine bresaola, Britons have a cultural resistance to eating horse. Indeed, on occasion in France, I have felt on the verge of having to restrain Mrs Heffer from an act of violence as we pass a chevaline.

We have a cultural resistance to eating dogs and cats too, which I imagine is just as well, and I recall as a child of about five or six other children at my little school becoming hysterical because, in a fit of honesty, the cook had told them that what appeared to be the mince we were having for lunch was in fact rabbit. We often anthropomorphise domestic pets, and those children who had only seen a rabbit as a pet, rather than a pest who with its friends and family would happily demolish much of a garden, saw eating such a dish as cannibalism. Our Jewish and Muslim friends abjure pork, denying them one of the most enjoyable things on earth, the bacon sandwich. Hindus will not eat beef. Food is full of cultural taboos.

But we seem, in our culture, to have acquired a greater taboo still: that food should not be expensive. Food took a far higher proportion of weekly income half a century or a century ago (it now seems to have been displaced by the cost of running a car in the weekly budget). I know that many families are financially pressed and simply cannot afford the best cuts of meat from the most reliable butcher; yet many convenience foods are hugely expensive. It is then said that working women lack the time to prepare non-convenience foods. That may be true: but something has to give. I do not doubt that affording good food is a serious problem for a substantial minority of the population, as it always has been. What worries me more is that those who have money to spend find it objectionable to spend it on good food.

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