Killing several fatted calves with one stone


There are two types of vegetarian: those who don't eat meat or fish, and those who don't eat meat, draw the line at renouncing fish but still call themselves vegetarians. On the strength of this blithe hypocrisy, your correspondent has elected to swell the vegetarian ranks. Of course, this won't involve any change in eating habits: meat will continue to be the lion's share of my diet but, crucially, nothing that comes out of water will pass these lips. Except seaweed.

This regime will, as it were, kill several birds with one stone: it saves the lives of countless fish; it contributes to world harmony, reducing by a small percentage the size of the catch that all those bolshy Atlantic trawlermen argue over; and it makes me feel like a good person, which is far more important to vegetarians than feeling like a healthy person.

The one problem is veal. In the current climate, it's quite difficult for anyone to feast on a recently slaughtered calf and feel like a good person. As part of the research for this review, I even tried it the other night. Animal Crackers (BBC2) is in the third week of an imaginative attempt to hear all sides of the topical argument. So far we've had, in 15-minute bursts, the campaigner and the farmer. Next week, doubtless to tie in with The Vet (BBC1, tomorrow), we get the vet. The week after, God help us, it's the theologian.

Last night was the turn of the cook Jennifer Paterson. This game old bird sportingly underwent a tasting test involving white veal, the anaemic variety that has a bum ride in planes from Coventry and ships from Brightlingsea. She sampled slices of veal and pork which lurked under an overbearing mushroom sauce. Needless to say, she identified the veal as pork and the pork as veal. When even a cook doesn't know which dead animal she's eating, the abolitionists have their best case yet for imposing a ban on veal consumption. Let them eat pig, except in certain parts of north London.

After that, it all fell into place: a programme granting the platform to a notorious flesh-eater was the work of a crack troop of undercover veggivores. These are vegetarian secret agents, planted all over the media, who like to sink their teeth into meat-eaters.The Spectator's cookery writer was an irresistibly juicy meal.

As we watched the crash-helmeted Paterson mount her chugging moped and charge off in search of ossobuco at the butcher, the soundtrack caught the thrill of the chase with snatches of a hunting tune from a Mozart horn concerto. Some satire is performed with a forklift truck; this was done with a tuning fork.

But in the task of taking the mickey, the veggivores had some unwitting assistance from the lady herself. She stole the theologian's thunder by saying the Bible sanctions meat-eating. If you read the small print closely enough, you'll probably find that the Good Book lets you visit all sorts of atrocities on the fatted calf before you kill it.

And anyway, she added, "the average vegetarian I know looks jolly ill". You had to see her saying this to appreciate the full absurdity of the statement. Why is it that only the fatter carnivores think of meat-eating as a keep-fit class you can do in your own kitchen?

This spat will run and run, rather like the witnesses for the defence of veal crates summoned by Patterson. "They take expensive racehorses in aeroplanes," she offered. So they do. And then they deliver them direct to an abattoir, where they are summarily executed, strung up and hacked into bite-sized pieces. Like most of the arguments crammed into this small space and shipped onto your screen, that point is known as a Red Rum: an old chestnut that's long ago been put out to grass.

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