Thursday, 26 February 2015

Bacon doesn't grow on trees

The other evening we sat down to watch an episode of the BBC's series 'A Cook Abroad', where some celebrity chef effectively gets an all-expenses-paid holiday somewhere interesting where they get to indulge in and talk about the local food and drink. Not that I'm in any way jealous of course....
Having spotted the programme on the TV guide, I was a little puzzled by the big warning at the end of the description which went something like 'Warning - this programme contains scenes some may find upsetting', which intrigued me just enough to swing the decision whether to actually watch the programme or just have another session on the Playstation. I must admit, telling me something contains strong violence, sexual scenes, or graphic surgery is a surefire way to catch my interest....
In this episode Monica Galetti travelled to the Jura mountains in France, and sitting in front of it wasn't a bad way to spend an hour.
It turned out that the 'upsetting scenes' involved the hunting and killing of a wild boar, where dogs were used to chase down and catch the animal before a bloke dispatched it quickly with a large hunting knife through the heart.
So where's the problem with that? How else are you supposed to hunt boar in a densely vegetated environment? There's no line of sight for a rifle or a bow, but for some even that would still be an issue. Why?

The real issue here is that in our world of pre-packaged supermarket meat, people have lost touch with where meat comes from. The nicely presented packaging that lines the shelves of the local Tesco puts a firm barrier between the consumer and the process that put it there.
People like meat, but as soon as they're confronted with the reality that it once had a face they go all funny about it. Do they feel guilty about the connection between the cute little lambs bouncing around the field in Springtime and the delicious Sunday roast with a dash of mint sauce? If that's such an issue why not just be a vegetarian rather than hypocrite.
There's plenty of delicious vegetarian food out there, so it's really not a problem.
There does however seem to be an increasing percentage of the population that have little or no idea of how the meat gets into the packaging. Indeed, for some there appears to be no concept of meat having anything to do with animals at all - as if it's just another product like bread or Doritos.
An example of this detachment was shown on TV a few years ago on one of those 'Help I'm A Washed-up Celebrity, Give Me A Job' programmes where a bunch of D-listers had to survive on an island with whatever they could scavenge. Desperately hungry, they asked for some meat to be provided, which duly arrived in the form of a crate of live chickens. Some of them refused to eat them or be involved in the process whatsoever, preferring to sit in the corner and cry instead.
Present me with a live chicken for dinner and I'd be over the moon - it doesn't get much fresher than that after all. I have no problem killing an animal for food, skinning and cleaning it, and preparing it for consumption. I also love animals as living creatures (despite certain reservations about cats) and so have no desire to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering, so a quick clean kill is always preferable.
I almost wonder if it should be part of the school curriculum - "OK kids, today we're going to make chicken chasseur, so grasp your chicken's head and give it a sharp twist while pulling firmly......".
Can you imagine the uproar from all the liberal yummy mummies who're bringing up their kids to believe that bacon grows on trees and the cows in the field are just the farmer's pets?
Maybe it's time to let the kids watch 'Bambi' before serving up a plate of venison.

It's funny how attitudes to meat have changed over the last few decades. During the war families would keep animals specifically for food because meat rations were so small, and picking out a chicken or rabbit for Sunday dinner was a normal thing to do. People had no problem eating rabbits, pigeons, crows - whatever was available. I've shot and eaten a crow that was stupid enough to come into the garden, and very tasty it was too - a bit like a cross between pork and duck. Pigeons regularly get converted from irritating little bastards into tasty snacks, with the added benefit of knowing I'm doing my bit to cut down the local agricultural pests.
Let's face it, anything that has a heartbeat is a potential source of food, and being involved with (or at least acknowledging the existence of) the process of making it into a piece of meat for dinner is important for ensuring a level of respect for the animal that relinquished its life so you can enjoy a nice casserole.

'Bambi' and 'Thumper' - AKA 'Peppered loin of venison with red wine sauce' and 'Rabbit and pearl barley stew'

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A question of religion

While in Norwich this weekend, the wife and I paid a visit to the cathedral.
Neither of us has any religious belief, but it's still interesting to walk around old churches and cathedrals from both a historic and architectural point of view.
At over 900 years old, Norwich cathedral makes an interesting comparison to Ely, and makes us realise just how incredible Ely cathedral really is and how mad it is that we walk by it so often without really noticing because we're so used to seeing it.
That's not to say that Norwich cathedral is in any way a let-down, because it isn't, and it still amazes me with all these buildings that they managed to create such architectural works of art so many centuries ago without the benefit of machinery, relying on craftsmanship and manual labour.
It's hard to imagine anything so beautiful and intricate being built today with the proliferation of steel & glass structures which although impressive in their own way still lack a certain something.

The interesting thing about these places is the sense of quiet awe that they inspire, despite my lack of religious belief. The feeling I get when surrounded by what would have been incredible grandeur to everyday folk centuries ago hints at the power the church held over the uneducated masses. Yet my overwhelming thought when looking at the 'treasury' in Norwich cathedral was that while the Christian religion taught the value of being humble and not accumulating wealth and possessions on Earth, instead focussing on doing the Lord's will to gain a place in heaven etc etc, the church held a formidable cache of wealth and possessions. Clearly a case of "Do as I say, not as I do".
To me, this is further confirmation that religion is nothing more than a form mind control to keep people in their place, and I have no time for it. But that's just me.
On the other hand, I have no problem with anyone following a religious faith if it makes them happy.
I've met plenty of people of all sorts of faiths and never had a problem - to me they're just people.
The only time religion is a real problem is when people use it as an excuse to be shitty to each other - or if they're knocking on your door on a Saturday morning trying to shove it down your throat....

For me, Stephen Fry summed it all up wonderfully in his recent interview with Gay Byrne.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Tugging the forelock

The little niceties of life are often lost on me. Social interaction provides a plethora of pitfalls that provide the unwary with almost unlimited opportunities for making a complete arse of themselves.
With the increasing trend for embracing all things European, we now have the additional complexity of trying to cope with things that are from outside our own culture and therefore even more likely to trip us up.
The greatest source of confusion for me is the act of greeting someone or saying goodbye, which as far as I'm concerned involves the simple act of saying either "hello" or "goodbye".
These days however, it seems every other person feels the need to invoke some sort of physical contact, which to my mind should begin and end with a brief firm handshake, but inevitably involves some sort of kissing routine.
Or is it kissing? Indeed a whole range of questions line up in my brain the instant someone moves in for more than a handshake, such as do I go left or right, are you expected to kiss the other person's cheek or do that sort of air-kiss thing, and do you have to do it both sides or just the one?
All these questions clamour for attention at exactly the same time leaving me totally befuddled, and terrified that this confusion might lead to an inadvertent bout of tonsil hockey with my sister which is completely inappropriate behaviour outside of the more remote parts of Norfolk.
On the other hand, it's a convenient method of getting closer to unrelated women who you wouldn't normally be allowed within three feet of.
I'm just thankful that blokes tend to not go in for this approach; preferring to stick with the more traditional attempts to break a few bones in each others hands in a move that says "I like you but I could hurt you if I had to".
A brief hug is OK as a greeting if it's someone you're close to and haven't seen in a while, but even then there's the risk of it lingering too long. Too brief and it's meaningless, but too long and it could be misconstrued as foreplay.
On the whole I try avoid all of this, preferring to hang back desperately trying to send out telepathic waves saying "please don't do the kissy thing..... please don't do the kissy thing....."
The thing is, we're English and we just don't do that sort of thing. We're emotionally repressed, undemonstrative dullards, and quite happy to stay that way. If we were intended to greet each other like Italians, then we'd have been born in Italy. I'm more than happy to enjoy Italian food, wine and cars, but beyond that I think I'll stay firmly in my comfort zone, thinking how nice it would be if we could wind the clock back to a time when greetings were limited to a tug of the forelock or a doff of the cap.
If we must import this sort of thing from other cultures, why not do it with Japan? I love sake, sushi and even Suzuki, and what could be a more respectful way of greeting someone than with a short courteous bow?