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"... like trying to have a debate about public transport by pointing out the virtues of the Mercedes Five Series. The two are not related. The truth is that we live on a small, overpopulated island and if we are going to feed ourselves - and, in particular, those who struggle with the weekly budget - we are going to have to face up to what that really means, which is the unglamorous, unsexy business of mass food production."

No argument here, Marco.

Meanwhile, the reader responses have boiled this debate down to be what it really is: class sniping by the affluent, who really seem to believe that people on lower incomes are a species worth fewer rights than chickens. I guess this blood-letting is inevitable, as Guardian readers rarely get the chance to unrestrain the hatred of the consumer underclass they so clearly loathe.

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Up to a point, Lord Copper.

Disclaimer 1) For me, the cruelty argument is immaterial. If we are going to eat animals, we have to kill them. We're likely to breed and manage them for efficiency. Between gassing male chicks and shooting male calves, there's no difference but fluff. Killing things to eat them is never going to look nice - I'm glad to be reminded how it happens occasionally. I've killed a few myself. I chose to live with it. I can't form an argument against battery farming and continue to eat foie gras. I can't form an argument against selective breeding for breastier, faster growing chickens yet still eat Simmenthal or Kobe.

So, with that in mind.

Take the money out of the picture for a minute. As privileged, educated, middle-class foodies, we buy FR wherever we can because it tastes better, it's less likely to contain hormones but mainly because we cook from base ingredients and want to put good stuff in our bodies. Whether or not we can do this might be a matter of our financial circumstances, but desire to do so is based on knowledge.

A middle class foodie would say - if I can't afford FR chicken, I'll eat less or I'll cook other things.

Any other person with enough knowledge about food and its preparation would applaud. Yes. Good. That is the right thing to do.

What gets me is this pusillanimous middle class terror or standing by that assumption.

Genital mutilation, 'honour' killing etc are, in my book, wrong things to do. The excuse that we should allow people to carry on doing these things 'because it's their culture/religion' is, to me, the worst sort or moral relativism.

Cooking and eating badly is an entirely different degree of problem but the relativism is still there.

I don't think the poor are wrong because they don't know as much as middle class foodies. I think it's the job of anyone who knows to educate. But to simply say 'They're poor. We're we're being elitist if we say they should spend their money on decent food instead of widescreen TVs and steak for the pit-bull' is just ducking the point.

Cooking and eating well is a life skill that everyone should have. If those who know are not going to teach it to those who don't it will continue to atrophy.

Look back to the Victorian heyday of social reform. There's never been an improvement in British working class life that hasn't been brought about by interfering middle-class busybodies.

If HFW is part of a longer British tradition it's the one that led feminism, prison reform, abolished slavery, stopped kids working up chimneys, gave a right to education, a national health service... you fill in the rest, I'm knackered.

As far as I can see, If you know that eating badly is wrong and can be avoided, it's your job to try to change things.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Just an addition to the above. An observation really.

In all the recent chicken programmes, with one exception, the complaints about cost were, as far as I could see, second hand.

The woman in Axminster who HFW saw buying BOGOF chickens actually said she, personally, couldn't afford FR for her family.

Other than that, every objection was some indignant soul, divulging the priceless piece of wisdom 'Some people are on very tight budgets you know' - not me, you understand. 'Some people'.

Granted, it's a function of the kind of people likely to participate in a TV show about chickens but I thought it was worth pointing out.

It seems to me that everybody participating in this debate is a middle class busybody - even those supposedly representing the voice of the poor.

Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Cooking and eating badly ...

Hold on, you almost had me for a moment. What's badly?

By "badly", do you mean meat from badly treated animals? Or do you mean it's bad for the person doing the eating? Or are you simply saying that it's bad when the net cost to society of any foodstuff is greater than its benefit? On all points, the obvious extremes border a grey area the size of the Atlantic.

Cruelty to animals is one of the more flexible areas of moral relativism. It's difficult to explain British sensitivities to a Japanese whaler, a Congolese pygmy or a Chinese market worker who makes her living skinning live cats. It takes a missionary's belief in education to assume that you can convert the savages by presenting the same evidence that has swayed you. As I've said before, this kind of thing usually ends very, very badly.

The middle-class-led reforms of the past couple of centuries have all been about protecting or establishing rights for some unfairly disadvantaged group of people. I'm not sure you can equate this with establishing rights of some disadvantaged group of animals, or protecting the populace from itself. For openers, is there a tasting menu in Britain that doesn't fall down on at least two of the three criteria mentioned above?

Of course people should be discouraged from eating "badly" (and kudos once more to HF-W for still hammering away at that particular nail). But the current media glut stands on the shoulders of decades of similar exposes; we can probably assume that everyone now knows that a battery farm is not Butlins for poultry. If the informed public don't like what they're buying, they won't buy it. If they don't care, they will.

As I say, it's not the well-meaning campaign that's likely to be counterproductive, it's the imposition of grey-area sensitivities on others. Glib simplifications about class aside, if one group is allowed to make its own decisions about what's tolerable, it has to accept that everyone else can as well. People, after all, are completely within their rights to tell us to stick our moral compass up our arse.

Edited by naebody (log)
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Cooking and eating badly ...

Hold on, you almost had me for a moment. What's badly?

Sorry. Sloppy language.

What I tried to establish above is that the exact definition of well/badly is not that important to the argument. If people who are educated about food and can afford it know that a certain kind of diet is preferable that's enough.

By "badly", do you mean meat from badly treated animals?  Or do you mean it's bad for the person doing the eating? Or are you simply saying that it's bad when the net cost to society of any foodstuff is greater than its benefit? On all points, the obvious extremes border a grey area the size of the Atlantic.

Cruelty to animals is one of the more flexible areas of moral relativism. It's difficult to explain British sensitivities to a Japanese whaler, a Congolese pygmy or a Chinese market worker who makes her living skinning live cats. It takes a missionary's belief in education to assume that you can convert the savages by presenting the same evidence that has swayed you. As I've said before, this kind of thing usually ends very, very badly.

As I said above, the animal cruelty argument is not important to me.

As it happens, my politics are broadly left of centre so I have a simpler picture. What really burns me is that a business sector makes a profit by shafting both animals and customers (torturing the animals, selling shite food to the ignorant and poor) and is at the very least allowed to get away with it by government. That sucks.

If the chattering classes are allowed to make their own decisions about what's tolerable, they have to accept that everyone else can as well. people, after all, are completely within their rights to tell us to stick our moral compass up our arse.

The chattering classes are they're own worst enemy. It's the chattering classes who get into a hand-wringing, Liberal funk about efforts to effect social change. vide this entire thread.

If the members of the chattering classes who were members of the legislature weren't so bloody pusilanimous, this stuff would be a matter of public policy, not opinion.

Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Apologies for the ninja edits I made on the quoted message, Tim. But the main point I'd argue is that, if you remove both cost and animal welfare concerns from the argument, I'm not sure there's any argument left.

As for big business, of course they sell crap food that people buy. So do small ones, although they do it to fewer people. Not sure if the solution here is education or legislation though. France, for example, is generally regarded as a world leader in food knowledge and protectionist legal measures, yet it is McDonald's fastest-growing established market.

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Apologies for the ninja edits I made on the quoted message, Tim. But the main point I'd argue is that, if you remove both cost and animal welfare concerns from the argument, I'm not sure there's any argument left.

As for big business, of course they sell crap food that people buy. So do small ones, although they do it to fewer people. Not sure if the solution here is education or legislation though. France, for example, is generally regarded as a world leader in food knowledge and protectionist legal measures, yet it is McDonald's fastest-growing established market.

Agreed.

But here's a question. If the diet of the population of the UK is to improve what is most likely to be responsible...

1) A sudden attack of altruism by supermarkets and the food business

2) Government legislation

3) A nationwide alertness to diet led by a bunch of whining middle-class busybodies in the national media?

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I try only to ever buy organic chicken (Sheepdrove usually)

I do buy these at some independents, and also like the excellent Label Anglais birds, but supermarket birds are uniformly awful, particularly the terrible Sheepdrove, revoltingly breast-heavy in the worst british manner.

Earlier this week, musician Joe Brown took part in a panel discussion about the 50's music scene for the excellent BBC series Pop On Trial series. During the programme, he recalled the early days of skiffle and how the bass players, in a typically British manner would deride each other's choice of tea chest. "What kind of bass you got then, China or Indian? Indian! What've you got one of them for, the tone on them is rubbish!"

Plus ca change.

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Just to weigh in with a tiny point (it's safer commenting here than over on my own newspaper's website, where they are lining up with the pitchforks) I did specifically say that what was more important than how the chiken was raised was whether it ended up in the deep fat fryer at the end. My argument was not a 'it's their culture let em got on with it' one; it was about price point and the availability of raw materials which are, if truth be told, nowhere near as substandard as us foodie-heads would like to believe.

I'm rather keen on education as it happens.

Jay

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The only argument for me is taste. Like Tim, i will have no truck with the concept of animal welfare or cruelty in food production. These animals are bred, nay produced, to be killed and then eaten. What can be more cruel than the ultimate killing of an animal? The only issue is whether the lifestyle of the animal affects the quality of the product. I'm neither middle-class, wealthy nor particularly chattering but it is obvious to me that FR chickens are far tastier than battery ones that have next to no flavour. This is the intrinsic difference between we who use this forum, and the demographic to which these shows are trying to preach to. At the moment you simply cannot convince the majority that there is marked difference between the taste of FR and battery chicken, or for that matter between rare-breed and ordinary pork et al. If food is not an important part of someone’s life then the argument is lost before it has even started.

I can appreciate what these tv shows are trying to do. They are providing a platform for these issues to be aired but the way they do so with equal amounts of shock and tug-at-the-heart-string tactics, well time will tell if this is an effective angle of attack or not. In the short term it may be working; I was in Sainsbury’s earlier (huge one – Marshall Lake in Solihull) and they’d completely sold out of Organic, FR and even corn-fed chickens when there were still shelves packed with ordinary birds! I have a feeling in a month’s time the opposite will be true….

I think the slow initial uptake on this forum regarding these shows is the fact that they are exactly that – tv shows. Prime time entertainment vehicles, nothing more than telly bosses riding the media bandwagon.

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I have quite strong views on Saint Jamie the moral crusader, which I won't bore you with again.

However, on the subject of taste, has anyone ever eaten the organic chicken breasts Sainsbury's sell for £5.00 odd. If not try them and I guarantee you will not taste a more rubbery* tasteless piece of meat in your life. Infact I cannot work out why they are so inedible. Maybe organic free range does not always produce quality tasting meat? And that my friends is from a Jamie endorsed 'happy chicken'.

* This is not because I over cooked it or did not let it rest

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Jamie's crusade on School Dinners made much bigger headlines, had Goverment approval , schools changing their menus and where are we now? Less children than ever taken the food.This Chicken out will be in the same place in 6mths.It's worth trying to educate the population, but really, do think things will change in the long run?

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I have quite strong views on Saint Jamie the moral crusader, which I won't bore you with again.

However, on the subject of taste, has anyone ever eaten the organic chicken breasts Sainsbury's sell for £5.00 odd. If not try them and I guarantee you will not taste a more rubbery* tasteless piece of meat in your life. Infact I cannot work out why they are so inedible. Maybe organic free range does not always produce quality tasting meat? And that my friends is from a Jamie endorsed 'happy chicken'.

* This is not because I over cooked it or did not let it rest

Exactly. An organic label is meaningless as far as quality goes, and in the case of some things-cheese comes to mind-is to be avoided.

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Sorry, but just to bring this back onto track.

It's really important to be specific about the difference between FR and Organic birds.

FR birds 'range freely'. They are usually slow growing breeds, fed well and generally treated more humanely.

An FR bird is at worst a couple of quid more expensive than an intensively reared one.

The Soil Association's rules for an Organic chicken are specific not only on the treatment of the bird but also the condition of the land over which they range and the provision of organically certified feed. This makes them much more expensive. I've seen them double the price of similar sized intensively fed birds.

One of the irritations of the HFW show was the constant reference of the ranting, frothing, Little-Englander, NIMBY Nazis of Axminster to the £20 Organic chickens that the posh boy from up that London was trying to persuade them to buy.

Although HFW himself seemed to be mentioning organic standards a lot concerning his own chooks, his aim, as I saw it, was purely to convert that pustular bumhole of a town to FR or indeed more humanely reared birds.

I too, have seen no advantage whatsoever in any organic chicken I've ever bought over a similar bird that was simply FR.

Part of what is making this argument so intractable is the confusion, intentional or otherwise, of organic and FR birds.

Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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free range and organic farming is never going 2 feed the world is it. farmed chickens are horrible and do taste of water but poor people cant afford organic so these intensive farmed chickens and meat will always be the stable food for the world sad 2 sayö.

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Jamie's crusade on School Dinners made much bigger headlines, had Goverment approval , schools changing their menus and where are we now? Less children than ever taken the food.This Chicken out will be in the same place in 6mths.It's worth trying to educate the population, but really, do think things will change in the long run?

Next he will be campaigning for the plight of the Ecuadorian farmed prawn and the mental health issues this incarceration causes said crustacea. Or maybe against poor farmed salmon, oops I forgot, he actually promoted and advertised them :rolleyes:

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I think the main problem is that there isn't really a happy medium which normal people are happy to buy - neither the worst common denominator or the £20 a pop pricebusting poulet d'or with a certificate of its forfathers back to the Vikings. How can anyone on an average wage (and I'm talking about £15 - 18k here, which appears to me to be the average working person's wage if you look in the Job Section at bog standard building society, admin jobs) be expected to purchase these wildly priced birds as a regular food ?

but then, if we think back 50 years, chicken was a luxury meat which was saved for highdays and holidays and eked out for several meals after the roast. Rissoles anyone ? Only since the advent of, guess what, battery farming, has chicken become a cheap and cheerful meat for mass production

Personally I think that farmers should be looking into a middle ground between battery and organic fancy pants chicken, so that ordinary people will think "that's good value, i'll buy it". Maybe around the £6 mark. I blanch at £15 for a chicken, and as yet I only have 2 people to feed out of my budget. There is no way I could afford to feed a family of 4 on those prices, even with two well paid adults in the household.

Edited by Fibilou (log)

www.diariesofadomesticatedgoddess.blogspot.com

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That's why I mentioned the French Label Rouge birds, which typically sell for £6-7. One used to find them at Waitrose, Sainsbury and Tesco. They are infinitely superior to , for example, the Waitrose 'poulet d'or' at twice the price.

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That's why I mentioned the French Label Rouge birds, which typically sell for £6-7. One used to find them at Waitrose, Sainsbury and Tesco. They are infinitely superior to , for example, the Waitrose 'poulet d'or' at twice the price.

Does anyone know of a UK retail source of Label Rouge birds?

They account for 35% of French chicken sales but the only UK source revealed in the first ten pages of a Google search was a meat wholesaler with a stall on New Covent Garden Market.

Label Rouge birds also cropped up in the search as menu items in a few UK restaurants.

For those interested, these are the (exacting) Label Rouge Standards :

Breeds: Only certain breeds are allowed and these are slow-growing breeds

suitable for outdoor production.

Buildings: Area of buildings must be no more than 1324 square metre with no more

than four buildings per farm. Each building must be a minimum of 30m from

each other.

Stocking Density: The maximum stocking density is 0.3m square metre

per bird. No more than 4400 birds per building. Approximately 1 kg of bedding material is required per bird.

Access and range size: All birds must have access to the range from

9:00am until dusk after six weeks of age and must be outside for at least 42

days of the grow-out period. Range area per bird should be 6.5 square metre. Approximately 2 acres are required per house. 0.37m of pophole exits are

required per 31 square metre of building.

Feed: Ration must contain at least 75% cereal and be non-medicated.

Starter rations can be 50% cereal due to a higher soybean content. Rations

cannot contain animal products, growth stimulants or other additives.

Fishmeal is not permitted. Synthetic amino acids are permitted.

Veterinary: Coccidiostats are allowed but must be withdrawn 5 days before

slaughter. Vaccinations are allowed. Antibiotics can only be prescribed by a

vet.

Other: Beak and toe trimming are not allowed

Slaughter age: Birds must be grown for a minimum of 81 days

Minimum dress weight: 1kg without giblets

Sanitation period: Minimum period is 21 days between flocks

Transport: No more than 2 hours or 64 miles to processing plant

Processing: Air chilled post slaughter

Shelf life: Sold fresh within 9 days post slaughter

Inspection: Annually per flock (twice a year for hatcheries). Each visit

includes bacteriology tests and process control inspections. Taste tests occur

five times per year.

One article in my Google search suggested that lack ( therefore high cost) of space is an obstacle to rearing chickens to similar standards in the UK.

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ONe of the most amusing things about this story has been to see broadsheet journalists revealing the most tabloid-like hunt for a story, with similarly little regard for doing any research. The most common questions to the PR departments of major supermarkets are currently running along the lines--

1) Journo: 'How do you justify selling battery chicken?'

Sprmkt: 'We don't sell battery chicken. We never have.'

Journo: 'Oh, uhhr, oh.'

2) Journo: 'How do you justify seling broiler chicken?'

Sprmrkt: 'Broiler chicken is just a name given to chickens that people eat, it denotes nothing about the way the chicken is raised..'

Journo: 'Oh,. uhhr, oh.'

3) J: 'How do you justify this? What does your spokesperson say?'

S: 'What do we have to justify? WHat allegations are you making?'

J: 'All about this chicken thing. How do you justify it?'

S: 'If you'd like to give us some specific allegations, I'm sure we can respond.'

J: 'So you're refusing to respond to the allegations? I'll have to put that in the article.'

S: 'I'm just writing a note to your editor offering to respond to any specific allegations the paper may want to put.'

J: 'Oh, uhhr. Oh.'

It no longer exists, but it was lovely.

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I think the main problem is that there isn't really a happy medium which normal people are happy to buy - neither the worst common denominator or the £20 a pop pricebusting poulet d'or with a certificate of its forfathers back to the Vikings. How can anyone on an average wage (and I'm talking about £15 - 18k here, which appears to me to be the average working person's wage if you look in the Job Section at bog standard building society, admin jobs) be expected to purchase these wildly priced birds as a regular food ?

Erm, I think there are a lot of happy mediums. As Hugh F-W and a few people here have mentioned you can buy a free range or organic chicken for £6-7. I've got one in my fridge that I got from tesco yesterday and that only cost £6. I can get a Sheepdrove farm one from my organic grocery store for about £8. Even M+S are punting them out around the £7 mark, so no, you don't only have to pay £3-4 or £20. This myth is being perpetuated and it's plain wrong.

I accept it is double the price and not for everyone but the gulf is not that great

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The "£20 bird" thing can be a bit of red herring as well. I have been known to buy a £18 chicken in my time - a free range, traditionally raised bird from Linda Dick in the Borders - but that is £18 for an absolutely massive beast (usually 3kg). I can easily get 10 portions of meat from the bird, plus a really good stock.

PS

Edinburgh

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I wholeheartedly agree.. Why complain about poverty and not being able to afford a £5-7 bird while smoking ten fags on your way to the supermarket?

It's all about choise, and while we have more choice nowadays than ever before, we shouldn't be surprised that people do choose the cheapest possible option. Some of them genuinely have more important things to spend their money on, but in the vast majority of cases it's down to a combination of inertia, lack of education about choices, and generally not giving two shits about eatnig cheap chicken that tastes like penguin.

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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