Good for Hugh and Jamie for putting their celebrity to such good use. It is brave of them to challenge the supermarkets for promoting cheap chicken produced in ways any civilised society should be ashamed of. And with RSPCA running a chicken welfare campaign at the same time online petitions are gathering strength at a phenomenal rate. I couldn’t work out how to upload the Chicken Out petition on to my blog (and the sound of the bell supposedly clocking up each new name might have driven me mad) but I added my name to the campaign. For once celebrity seems worth while.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s television programme set out to show that people would not buy the stuff if they knew how it was reared. That turned out to be only partly true. For a depressing number of people a chicken costing £2.50 proved too much of a temptation and even one of Hugh’s supporters was caught in Tesco loading 2 for a fiver into her trolley despite the visible burns factory birds get on their legs from lying around in each others shit.
I was with the chef all the way and really applaud his courage, brass neck even, in taking on such a huge challenge. But I just wished he could have demolished that point about price. It is not value for money to produce inferior protein at give away prices when the moral cost is so high and damage to human health and the environment is so great. It is not necessary to buy cheap chicken with translucent tasteless flesh. We can make much more nutritious low cost meals by eating less meat and more vegetables.
And when we fancy chicken, why not buy a better, more expensive, free range chicken and make several meals out of it (Hugh’s converts were astonished to see him make risotto and a fantastic soup out of the leftovers – you actually don’t get much of a stock from a poor old battery broiler because their bones are so insubstantial). The problem is that we have come to think of chicken as an everyday meal when it used to be a Sunday treat. We don’t need to – indeed we shouldn’t – eat meat every day anyway. And for £2.50 you can make good rich vegetable stews and spicy sauces for meals based on pulses, pasta and potatoes.
The question is not ‘Can they reason? nor ‘Can they talk? but ‘Can they suffer?’ Jeremy Bentham 1748 – 1832.
This all rings a bell. I have just dug into my old newspaper cuttings to find a book review I wrote for the Scotsman nearly 32 years ago when Peter Singer, then a newly graduated young philosopher, lifted the lid on some of the more unsavoury aspects of mass produced food, including intensively reared pigs and battery hens. In Animal Liberation he made with passion the moral case for treating all life with equal respect because all animals (including humans) have equal capacity for pain and pleasure. Looking at it now I am struck by the force of Jeremy Bentham’s question (not can they talk or reason but can they suffer?) which Singer quotes to clinch his argument. He said we should be planting more efficiently, using land to produce grain for direct human consumption. The depressing reality is that this argument, more urgent than ever, has still to be won.
But how many have heard of Peter Singer? Hugh and Jamie have names and reputations people understand. And it looks as if Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s television programme is making quite an impact already. Click on his website to join the campaign and then sign the RSPCA petition also making use of both Hugh and Jamie’s Fowl Dinners. It will take more than celebrity muscle to beat Tesco and all the other supermarket bogoffs.