Last night's viewing: Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket, Channel 4; Silk, BBC1
I thought I'd give Embarrassing Bodies a miss last night. "The focus is firmly on faeces this week," ran the Radio Times billing, a rare acknowledgement from a programme-maker that its product is going to be full of crap but still not the most alluring pitch I've ever read.
Instead, I watched Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket, in which Britain's most popular pig farmer, Jimmy Doherty, sets out to get high-welfare meat on to Tesco's shelves at an economy price. "I want to go into the belly of the beast," he said, noting that one in every seven pounds spent in retail in this country goes into Tesco's tills. But in the belly of the beast they weren't very encouraging: "If it was easy, Jimmy, we'd have done this already," said a sceptical executive. Another warned him not to underestimate the British consumer: "Don't think you know better than they do, because none of us do."
That was self-serving shopkeeper's piety. Because the awkward truth here was that consumer ignorance is an essential ingredient of Britain's disordered food culture. People understand that they can't afford the free-range product, for example, and simply have to ignore what cheap actually means. Disassembling one of Tesco's budget meatballs, Jimmy discovered that it had double the fat of a free-range equivalent and that its raw material came from 179 different cows. Unfortunately, his attempt to produce a better quality equivalent foundered almost immediately. Although he produced a flavoured veal meatball that went down well at a Christmas market, the Tesco men were doubtful: "Oregano, marjoram? The kids are going to turn off in their thousands." They know better, you see. Herbs, yuk. Well-minced gristle and fat, yum.
So Jimmy changed his tack slightly. If he couldn't make a decent meatball at a price to match the market leader he could perhaps do something to get British veal into Tesco stores. Here too the ignorance of the consumer is a major hurdle. People tend not to buy veal because they think it's cruel. So male veal calves have little commercial value and are shot almost immediately after birth. Farmers hate doing this, and Jimmy didn't much like watching it when they filmed a knackerman taking out three adorably liquid-eyed Jerseys. "If reared on," he said, "these calves could lead happy and fulfilled lives." Well, "fulfilled" is surely a bit moot, and it would only be for eight months. But better than being melted down to fuel a Belgian power station, surely?
Tesco (which already sells German veal farmed to lower welfare standards) tentatively said it would have a go. The advertising is going to be simple, I would have thought: picture of a Jersey with a gun to its head over the caption "If you don't buy British veal, we'll shoot this calf". But I'm still not sure that it's going to do much to address the question of cost, given that the existing British-reared veal Jimmy had found was priced at a premium anyway. The uncomfortable truth is that if more of us are going to eat free-range and cruelty-free meat then all of us will have to eat less meat in total. But that may be for a different programme altogether. Meanwhile, this one at least has its heart in the right place.
Silk continues to be one of the most enjoyable guilty pleasures available at the moment. Why guilty? Because the court-room scenes, despite Peter Moffat's legal background, are just silly, with the barristers signalling their exasperation and consternation to the jury at setbacks a first-year law student might have foreseen. Why a pleasure then? Because none of us are entirely immune to this kind of snakes-and-ladders plotting, in which a series of apparently insurmountable downward slithers are suddenly followed by the appearance of a giant ladder leading directly to the winning square. High-quality playing pieces too.
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