Deception, in the abstract, is generally viewed as unacceptable. Except when it actually occurs. Then, we frequently find contradictions that make snap condemnations a little harder to formulate.

An interesting juxtaposition of examples illustrating the concept of deliberate deception was made last week in an editorial in Great Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, in which the author compared “bad beefburgers, Beyoncé and Lance Armstrong,” using them as Exhibits A through C of our dysfunctional social mores on . . . sincerity? Integrity? Honesty? Whatever one considers the opposite of deception.

The article began by lambasting the scandal that developed over the alleged inclusion of horsemeat into ground beef from Ireland—which authorities now say originated in raw materials from Poland—that was widely distributed in the United Kingdom at Tesco and other large retailers and foodservice operators. As many as 10 million frozen beef patties were recalled due to “contamination.”

As the newspaper phrased it, “British consumers were given contaminated meat courtesy of foreign farmers, pliant retailers and lax regulations.”

(Isn’t every food recall always the fault of the regulatory agencies? Who then have to endure withering criticism from groups and policymakers who lambaste the “heavy hand” of government on private business).

“With British shops selling beef burgers laced with horsemeat, Beyoncé lip-synching the national anthem or Lance Armstrong doping his way into the record books, what you see, taste or hear is not necessarily what you get,” the article stated.

No go on faux burgers

First of all, it’s objectionable to lump those three news items together.

Horsemeat, of course, does not belong as an “additive” in ground beef. But to label it “contamination” is misleading, albeit correct in the regulatory sense. The idea that beef “laced” with horsemeat needs to be immediately recalled and destroyed is ridiculous. In fact, the real deception here is the collusion of public officials who allowed the idea that horsemeat is a form of contamination to continue in the media. That’s the height of dishonesty.

Even The Guardian newspaper column admitted in a backhanded way that, “Worse things have long made their way into the food chain with nary an outcry—as Eric Schlosser pointed out in the book, Fast Food Nation, ‘There’s s**t in the meat.’ ”


At any rate, the horsemeat “scandal” doesn’t compare with criticism of Beyoncé for using a pre-recorded version of the national anthem that was created earlier. As the newspaper story acknowledged, “Lip-synching is apparently common at big events, particularly when it’s cold, as that can harshly affect the voice (yes it is). [Beyoncé] used the pre-recorded version because she arrived too late to rehearse with the Marine Corps band. What’s the big deal?”

Indeed. Whether it’s presidential inaugurations, the Super Bowl or other mega-events, lip synching is widespread. Does it detract from our enjoyment of the performance? Not really. Is it deceptive, when most of the audience realizes the song they’re hearing is pre-recorded? Not really. Should the artist be condemned because he or she didn’t want to risk epic failure if their voice went south during the actual event? No, not really.

Honestly, most of us would prefer to see singers go live, especially during the Super Bowl, but not because we think it would immensely improve the entertainment experience, but because secretly we’d relish a gigantic gaffe if it occurred during a performance witnessed by multi-millions of viewers.

But we’ll never openly admit that, so tell me about being “deceptive.”

As for the disgraced Lance Armstrong, his sad saga has been dissected quite thoroughly enough, thank you, right here in this space, as well as in hundreds of other news and commentary venues. He broke various laws, cheated his chosen sport, lied about it to any and everyone for more than a decade, then when cornered, arranged a made-for-TV tell-all that was about as sincere as a politician pledging to lower taxes, create jobs and reform government.

He’s the embodiment of deception; his photo might as well be pasted into the dictionary next to the definition of the word itself.

His cheating the system and subsequent dishonesty, which certainly contaminated cycling, isn’t a whole lot different than the fast-buck scam of meatpackers adding otherwise edible horsemeat to a burger patty.

However, while both represent deceptions that cannot be tolerated, Armstrong’s blood doping and drug use are the actions that actually jeopardized people’s physical well-being.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.