Vegetarianism & fox hunting

I am omnivorous. With the rare exception of the odd species, and the more obscure parts of an animal, I will eat just about anything ~ fish, fowl or flesh. Coupled, of course, with healthy portions of fruit, vegetables and grains.

So you might expect that this column would be a rant of the “I don’t understand why they do it” type against vegans and vegetarians (not that I’m entirely clear as to the difference between the two).

But it’s not. If eating nothing but fruit and veg revs your engine, go for it.

Rather, I came across a factoid in the business press recently that I think warrants some interest.

It is expected that the UK’s leading developer and manufacturer of non-meat foods, a company named Quorn from North Yorkshire, will shortly become a billion-pound-a-year corporation. That puts it in the big league of British businesses and makes it a significant player in the international food manufacturing sector.

And the birth and growth of Quorn is a remarkable story.  The company started out developing a non-meat protein that can be made into many different edible products. So as not to bamboozle its market, it was originally put out that Quorn products were made of reconstituted mushroom flesh. Except that’s not quite right. Rather, the basis of Quorn products is a fungus found in soil which, being a fungus is related to mushrooms, but which in no way resembles what we put on our braais, fry up for breakfast  or make soup from.

The soil fungus is cultivated into a usable mass of  what is called mycoprotein in huge vats of growing medium. Once it has grown sufficiently it is separated from the growing medium and processed into a wide range of dishes by the addition of chemical colourants, flavourants and preservatives.

And the range of dishes is impressive, from sausages, to schnitzels, to chicken breasts, to mince, and to ready-made meals such as lasagna and cottage pie. There is even a mock bacon, though in truth the slices of the fake bacon resemble, in look, taste and smell, the inner sole of a child’s ballet pump rather than a slice of smoked pig meat.

So you may be forgiven for believing that vegetarianism was all about eating healthy fresh fruit and vegetables if the diet includes a careful blend of chemicals and soil fungus and it would seem that Quorn’s products (which are by no means cheap) find a ready market because they are convenient and easy to cook and serve.

But there’s something about the name of this remarkable business that is worth exploring. Is Quorn a play on words, for example “queer corn”? Probably not, now that we know that the provenance of its products is not corn but fungus.

Rather, the name is the same as one of England’s oldest and most famous fox hunts, the Quorn Hunt, which has been keeping the Leicestershire countryside free of foxes since 1696.

Of course, given that fox hunting is a pretty gruesome affair, especially for the fox, it is fair to say that it would seem that the Quorn Hunt is an unlikely bedfellow for a company manufacturing vegetarian food.

So why on earth would a vegetarian food manufacturer choose such a name? I can only assume that those who named the business know considerably more about developing dishes out of soil fungi than they do about horsemanship.

And it’s not as if the Quorn Hunt is unknown. Given its pedigree it is hardly made up of a bunch of yokels trotting about on flea-bitten nags with a rag-tag bunch of hounds chewing up the local wildlife. Rather, a meet of the Quorn is a grand affair and an invitation to a Quorn meet is a prize coveted by any horseman. Plus, the hunt itself has faced its full measure of attack and opprobrium from the anti-hunt brigade, that amorphous mass of pasty-faced proletariats who get in the way of those trying to enjoy their time-honoured country pursuit by swearing, throwing things and trying to make riders fall off.

As a result of their activities and namby-pamby politicians, fox hunting has been outlawed in Britain, as a result of which foxes are making a come-back and it’s only a matter of time before a toddler playing in a sandpit has its face chewed off. And that’ll give the Quorn munchers something to think about.


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