Waiter, there’s a hare in my pie!

Originally published at scoop.co.nz

Most New Zealanders are familiar with the joke about the safety of eating overheated pies. In 2009 police dog handler Guy Baldwin was caught on camera telling a teenage car-jacker that his pie will be “thermo-nuclear” after being in the warmer since 3 am. He advised him to “always blow on the pie.” It was screened on the Kiwi cop show Police 10-7 and went viral.

Meat pies are something of a cultural icon in New Zealand and are very popular. According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) New Zealanders eat an average of 15 meat pies each in a single year. That is 66 million pies being consumed each year.Given their popularity, hopefully all of us have received Baldwin’s safety message and are practicing pie consumption safely.

Unfortunately, a new pie issue has just arisen – the need to check for hairs in your pie filling. News that a chunk of hair was found in a pie by Nae Nae woman Elena Vulu recently hit the headlines.

Disgusting. There’s a hair in my pie. It conjures up that old ‘waiter there’s a fly in my soup’ joke. Shhh or everyone will want one.

I don’t mean to come across as churlish, but it has to be said. That hair was the least disgusting thing in Vulu’s pie. Unfortunately, Vulu may have been eating any number of things in the 25 percent of meat flesh that each pie must contain. According to the food code meat flesh means:

“The skeletal muscle of the carcass of any buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep, slaughtered other than in a wild state (i.e. not bush meat), plus any attached animal rind, fat, connective tissue, nerve, blood and blood vessels.” ‘

Apparently offal, pig snouts and tongue are not in pies unless declared on the label by the manufacturer. But poultry skin can be. And nerves and blood vessels from a camel – although I am entirely unclear if camel is even on the menu in New Zealand. I have seen a goat pie at a service station, so I know they end up beneath the flaky crust.

What’s to stop the odd hair from falling in during the messy slaughter process?

In short, we have come to expect rather a lot as consumers. We expect that those responsible for producing the food we eat separate the body parts of animals into edible and non-edible categories. There is a lot of blood and bone and nerves and things when an animal is killed. It is not a clean process.

Our indignation at finding a hair in the pie needs to be measured against the process of slaughter. Meat is the body of a dead animal. Animals have hair.

In this light the whole thing just seems really sad. I begin to think who the hair in Vulu’s pie belonged to. I am not sure it was a hair of a hare, but if it was, then the meat would be legitimate, and the nerves and the connective tissue – just not the hair.

Food is a cultural construct and the norms we are socialised into determine how we feel about what we put in our mouths. Toddlers will happily scoff a worm, hair or no hair. As we grow up we come to associate pleasure and disgust with certain foods based on our cultural patterns of eating.

In New Zealand dog, horse and monkey meat may be off the menu, but hare, goat, buffalo and camel connective tissue in our pies is just fine.

The meat pie in New Zealand is not just a cultural icon from the local dairy, it is also the remains of an animal encased in pastry. Don’t be so surprised when you find a hair, or a hare in your pie.

And shh, or soon everyone will want one.

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