Last Night's Television: Could You Eat An Elephant?, Channel 4
The Secret Life of Elephants, BBC1

"There's something about a little bird that says 'lunch'," Fergus Henderson mused in Could You Eat an Elephant?, picking bits of thrush from between his teeth. "It's nature's portion control." It's also nature's way of saying "Don't eat me" if you happen to be British, where a love of songbirds does not traditionally encompass fricasseeing them in a fresh tomato sauce and then crunching their tiny skulls between your teeth so you can suck the brains out. But then Fergus and his chef mate, Jeremy Lee, weren't in Britain. They were in Italy, attempting to map the arbitrary line that different cultures draw between the delicious and the disgusting.

Fergus and Jeremy are perfectly qualified for this task because they are both champions of "nose-to-tail eating", never likely to turn their noses up at a boiled pig's head or a duck's gizzard. So they were hardly going to be phased by thrush. They even invented a new dish for Italian enthusiasts: the thrush pizza, which Fergus, a natural comedian, introduced with his own distinctive approach to speaking foreign. "Noovo... er... approach?" he said hopefully, adding a few expansive hand gestures for good measure. Marcetto cheese, which only Jeremy turned up to sample, was a far tougher prospect: a fly-blown pecorino that is only deemed ready for consumption when the maggots are so numerous they're about to walk it off the plate. "Phwooahr!" said Jeremy, eyes watering after a sample bite. "It's quite a flavour."

Marcetto is slow food – patiently ripened to the point of putrefaction – but in Vietnam, the two men went to a fast-food restaurant specialising in snake. Thirteen dishes were carved out of a cobra in just seven minutes, though the cobra fought all the way to the wok, the whole banquet kicking off with the still-pulsing heart delivered to the table in a shot glass of vodka. Both diners insisted that fried snake bones were delicious and the cobra spring rolls "fresh as a daisy" but they had mixed views about the bile cocktail. They weren't too keen to eat sewer rat either, though by then a muddying complication had entered the picture, with taboos about what you can legitimately eat clashing with taboos about what you can legitimately do to animals before you eat them. Both men were prepared to sample beetle pâté in the Kalahari, but clearly hated pulling the wings and legs off first. "Something happened," said Fergus quaveringly, after his hosts had insisted he help with the prep. "It was emotional. For me and the beetle."

Fergus – wearing bottle-bottom glasses and a look of dazed amusement – was brilliant, stalwart in the face of the barely edible and never at a loss for a dry joke. "Oh, that's congealed beautifully," he said as a noisome swill of stewed dog intestine was delivered to the table in Vietnam. But he was also soft-hearted. Both men did their best with the dog banquet, but then looked as if they very much wished they hadn't when they saw how the stock was treated at the dog farm. And from there onwards, their commitment to omniverousness effectively died. Fergus was sympathetic to the Kalahari tribesmen who regarded elephants as five-ton rats ("I wonder if it affects property prices this side of the village," he said, being shown the trail of one recent invader) but flatly refused to join in the feast when a supply of fresh elephant became available. "They party, they love each other, they have memories... I tried to be open-minded but I wasn't," he said, and he became even more agitated watching monkeys being prepared for the pot. "It's just not on, it's just not on," he said. But if not, you wondered, why is any meat-eating? What has the noble pig done to forfeit our forbearance?

I hope Fergus saw The Secret Life of Elephants, which will have confirmed his conviction that they are too tender to be turned into meat. Not everyone shares this view, naturally. Ask a crocodile or a lion whether they could eat an elephant and they would reply, "Yes, smashing, but just a baby one please. Nature's portion control." This brutal truth of life in Kenya's Samburu reserve delivered the necessary narrative tension to the first episode of BBC1's pachyderm Big Brother, in which a winsome little baby called Breeze had to be protected from various hazards by the rest of the herd, as it staggered around like a pantomime cow with a drunk trapped in the back legs.

Much was made of the human-like bonds of trust and love that can be found in these family groups, although it didn't seem to stop some elephants falling through the cracks in the welfare system. "Unable to keep up with the herd, they have become separated from their family," the voice-over noted plangently of one mother and her crippled calf. Or, to paraphrase, "The herd have left the losers behind."Lovely film, though, even if a whole hour felt like slightly too generous a serving of elephant.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own