Television / No surrender to the turnip-chewing extremists

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The Independent Culture
Jonathan Meades, restaurant critic, bon viveur, a man not so much generously built as magnanimously, clearly does not like vegetarians. In J'Accuse (C4), he set about them much as a blood-crazed abattoir operative might the throat of a pink-eyed veal calf hanging by its hoofs from a ceiling conveyor belt. There was no mercy. It was the funniest programme of the year so far.

Meades is a man who enjoys words. He chews them around his mouth with the same relish he might derive from, say, slaughter-fresh sweetbreads dressed in lemon juice. Thus his complaint against vegetarians (or, as he called them variously, "nut-heads", "turnip-chewers" and "pulse extremists") was not that they liked vegetables, nothing wrong with that. But that they adopted "aesthetic superiority" and a diet "characterised by heaviness, blandness and clumsiness: they can't even do masochism with brio".

The pleasure about J'Accuse is that it makes no pretence at impartiality. Meades, generally not a man to back in an even-handedness competition, enjoyed himself enormously freed from the leash of balance: the moment when he took a bite from a Linda McCartney veggie sausage and spat it out, as the woman herself extolled its virtues on a television screen behind him, was almost as cruel as it was hilarious. Generally, in the accumulation of his evidence, Meades used a sledge-hammer to crush a nut- roast. Take his witnesses. In the green corner were Lindsay De Paul, G F Newman and Tony Blackburn. In the blood-red corner were Albert Roux, Darcus Howe, Auberon Waugh and Meades himself: 9-0 to the reds, then.

Indeed Meades's main theory, that proselytising vegetarians do not simply dislike food, they wish to stop others' enjoyment of it, was born out by the shape of his panel of experts. It was like that children's story about the Fattipuffs and the Thinifers, the rotund Meades against the ascetic G F Newman, the well-waistlined Waugh against the frail and diminishing De Paul. The only exception was the gracefully lined Nigella Lawson, who stepped out for the meat lobby. But then she does come from a lardy family.

Clearly Meades's favourite witness, though, was Roux, who far from objecting to the Brits' daily butchery of some six million "sentient beings", as G F Newman put it, complained we are second-rate meat eaters, frightened by offal. They see a bit of brain, and they won't make a meal of it, was his complaint. Depends on the brain. Meades's own, marinated in fine burgundy for the last 15 years, would make a sumptuous feast. Linda McCartney's, you feel, would be the kind of snack you could eat between meals without ruining your appetite.

Despite the unforgivable crime, for an aesthete, of over-filling his own wine glass (presumably he is used to waiters doing it for him), Meades was, beneath the hugely entertaining bile, eminently plausible. And J'Accuse really only works if you find the central premise plausible. Thus I can predict, without fear of subsequent contradiction, that next month's J'Accuse Manchester United will be nothing like as good as this.

Over on BBC2, meanwhile, Madhur Jaffrey was also on about food in Flavours of India (the cooking programme-cum-travelogue, that is, not the balti house of the same name down the Essex Road). Her first stop was Kerala, where the spices that fuel Indian cookery grow; the state, she reminded us, that Columbus was looking for when he found America. Lucky he got confused; otherwise, instead of supplying nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, Kerala would at this moment be inflicting pizza slices and frozen yoghurt on the rest of civilisation.

As the camera disclosed Jaffrey spinning sensational dishes out of the local vegetation, you somehow suspected that Jonathan Meades would have been salivating far more than any vegetarian.

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