Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Raise it, Herd it, Nom it

I was a vegetarian once. I lasted a whole 6 moths without craving a single burger or lamb chop. I didn't last much longer though, because as it turns out, my vegetarian cooking skills are limited at best, and my cheese covered carbohydrate monstrosities were doing nothing for my health or my large Pilsbury form. I may giggle if you poke my tummy, but inside I'm crying. No, seriously. I needed protein, and although I could have found it in shakes and pulses, etcetera etcetera, I called it "experiment over". Because that's all it was - an experiment. I've always been a fan of the phrase "don't knock it till you've tried it" ever since I was forced down a cliff side and realised that I loved absailing. I became a veggie not because of my deep need to save the world from tons of bovine greenhouse poop gas, or indeed my love for the wuvly lovely furry creatures. Nor was it my hatred for the huge-scale food manufacturing companies, or pre-packaged food. I decided that I would dare myself not to eat meat, and anybody who enquired as to my reasonings for such odd behaviour received the same well-rehearsed answer.

"I don't feel that it's right for me to eat something I couldn't kill myself."

The answer to that was nearly always "But I saw you eating a tuna sandwich yesterday." The thing was, I had already been fishing before, bashed my little freshwater trout over the head with a rock (not figuratively, I really did) and then gutted it, barbecued it and ate it, under the supervision of my step dad and uncle. I am not a particularly squeamish person, and I quite frankly couldn't give two flying halloumi fucks about fish. They are ugly and they smell weird. I like to eat them. In fact, I would go as far as to say that some fish are my favourite food. Take Potted Shrimp, for example. Best food you'll get in this country. I caught a fish and purposefully didn't throw it back to prove to myself I could do it myself, that I could kill and eat my own food. That I couldn't kill and eat a cow seemed to prove to me that eating a steak and kidney pudding would be highly hypocritical of me. It also shut up nearly every sneering inquisitor who prodded about my life decisions looking for flaws in my logic. It's good when you win arguments because you're right.

The thing is, I eat meat heartily now, almost every day. I don't eat lamb, but that's because I'm a soft arse, and seeing lickle lambies tawdle off to the slaughter house makes me sniff back "allergy" tears. I try not to eat meat just for the sake of it too, for example I have no problem with eating a steak or sausage and mash, but if the option is there for me to have meat on my pizza, I won't do it. Similarly, I am of the opinion that ham sandwiches are possibly the best food invention in the universe, but if I haven't got ham, I'll rarely have chicken or bacon. Save it for a decent meal. Have cheese instead. It's a strange and possibly perverse way to see the world, but in my mind I'm showing the meat some kind of dim respect instead of just shovelling it down without a thought. In a boots meal deal sandwich I once saw pastrami, salami AND ham. Would you even notice if the pastrami wasn't there? That's two different animals in that sandwich, when you could have had ugly, useless but similarly tasty prawn mayonnaise. I don't expect you to agree with me, but surely you can see my point?

Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall can see my point. The thing is, he's taken the point, and ran so enthusiastically with it that if I was to shout "OK, THAT'S ENOUGH NOW HUGH" he'd mishear me, and bound off into the meadowy distance to take it further still, with a big grin on his face, and the wind rushing through his curly locks. I've always loved his style of cooking, and despite being ripped consistently by Harry Hill (total comedic genius and my hero) I still find his recipes interesting and easy to follow. I love cooking, and he seems to really love it too, showing his ingredients a sort of respect that unfortunately can quite frankly linger along the realms of "friend's creepy dad trying to show you how to make something". His recent love however, lies in teaching the less culinarily-fortunate where ingredients come from, and why they should cook instead of eat Rustlers burgers and Bean Feast. An admirable crusade, not least because he isn't Jamie Oliver. There's no snobbery in Hugh's bones, just an earnest need to get people to appreciate the good things in life, which to him means cabbage, pastry, liver and pork medallions. He also really wants people to understand where their food comes from, which is where my admiration for him becomes slightly hazy. Educating people about the manufacture and slaughter of cattle is one thing, a possibly interesting and necessary thing, but to take people down to an abattoir to watch piggies and moo cows get their little heads bopped and their throaties slit....it all seems a bit barbaric.

[pic courtesy of the Independent online]

Throughout civilised time, there has always been a person in the tribe, village or general area who was better at gutting animals, so people would take their animals to him. People can be good at these things, in which case they become butchers, fishmongers or surgeons, or they can be a bit squeamish, in which case they've perhaps dabbled in a bit of light carp fishing, or they are a vegetarian. By simply taking people to a shed full of circular saws and blood and death you will not change a generation's views on the food that they eat. The other day when I saw an industrial machine chew the fluff off a lamb and simultaneously cut it's feet off, I felt like Hugh had rubbed his hands in some guts he'd found in a puddle on the floor and was waggling his fingers at the camera, all wide-eyed and "wwwuuuuurrrggghhh!!", tongue sticking out and trying to get some on the cameraman. Being grotesque to prove the point that the meat industry is grotesque isn't proving anything at all. In an ideal world we'd have our little small holds, we'd eat meat as a luxury and we'd respect our planet, our food and our bodies properly. Unfortunately, this isn't an ideal world, it's a world full of festival burger vans, donner kebabs and jars of hot dog sausages. Meat is seen as an essential everyday food, and unless this view is changed, the meat industry will continue to churn out mushy remnants of the pretty farm animals that make the countryside look so happy and nice.

I'm not a veggie. I'm a hypocritical carnivore, and every time I eat some meat I feel simultaneously guilty and happy. It tastes good. I just wish it was easier to find more affordable carcasses without having celebrity chefs drag me down to a halal chicken mortuary.


Jamrock said...

You had me with the title.

Comedy genius. I lasted seven years. I have been off the wagon and int he slaughter house for several years. I describe myself as a 'notional' or 'aspirational' vegetarian.

Good work, Biscuit.

Katie said...

I love that. From now on, I too am an "aspirational vegetarian".

Thanks again for your input Jam :) You never let me down!

Lidia said...

Hahaha I liked this, mostly because I turned veggie about four months ago now and for similar reasons you did. I started working at an animal shelter with farm animals in September and decided I wasn't comfortable with the idea of eating burgers and trying not to think about their origins anymore.

I agree with you about meat not being given enough respect. People guzzle it down for the sake of it. The worst ones are the people who say a meal isn't a meal without meat. Usually the same people who are happy buying sausages that are 37.1% meat. Around 40% of Indians (loving the percentages today!) are vegetarians and although some of that's due to religious reasons, a lot of it is purely because meat just isn't available to them. We do take it for granted over here.

I think it's important people know where the food come from and it's great if they can be educated about it, but not in a preachy way and without the shock tactics. Like Matt's girlfriend wanted to buy some fois gras from Morrisons at Xmas. She has no idea that ducks are force-fed with hydraulic pumps to make it (her mum used to make it with a plain liver) and once she did she refused to buy it cos it wasn't something she agreed with. A lot of people just live in blissful ignorance about these things.

But at the same time there's no need for blood and gore. Everyone's allowed to make their own personal choice and it's not really fair to try manipulate them with awwww coochycoochy cute little lambywambly BANG NOT SO CUTE NOW WITH IT'S HEAD OFF EH? MWAHAHAHA!

I'm off to eat a Quorn scotch egg now to congratulate myself on this vegetable-friendly ramble! Good blog Katie!

Shaman said...

I killed a lamb once for Christmas dinner in Spain. It was the best freaking lamb I ever ate.

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