"Aah, delicious - salmonella and BSE," Ned Sherrin is once supposed to have said as his starter arrived at Chez Gerard. The dish was steak tartare and the story was served up by Jennifer Paterson, one half of the Two Fat Ladies. She was one of 160 guests at the annual Carnivores' Club dinner at - inevitably - Butchers' Hall, in Smithfield, London's meat Mecca. Here, health warnings were as welcome as a kissogram at a funeral, cigarettes and cigars were liberally sprinkled among the silverware and the wine flowed as if there were no tomorrow, for tomorrow would bring some monumental hangovers.
The Carnivores' Club was founded five years ago by Laurence Isaacson and Neville Abraham of the Chez Gerard group of London restaurants. They were fed up of food scares, of evangelistic vegetarians and of the creeping insidiousness of political correctness. "I don't have a problem with vegetarians so long as they are well sauteed and served up with a good portion of chips," said Mr Isaacson. He, like other guests, had just negotiated his way past a huge heifer tied to railings outside the hall, and wore a lapel badge of a small plate on which there was an effigy of a dead cow.
"This is simply an exercise in reminding people that red meat, as part of a balanced diet, is absolutely wonderful. Because of the BSE crisis and the subsequent controls on quality, British beef has never been better. Ninety-five per cent of people in this country eat meat but they are the quiet majority - the minority, the vegetarians, are the noisy ones. Well it's time to bite back!" And bite back they did. The bon viveurs, mainly City types, foodies and journalists, bit into 120lb of Aberdeen Angus cross, 10 gallons of game consomme, eight pints of horseradish sauce, 100lb of cheese, 200 bottles of wine and 150lb of vegetables; all on top of the foie gras, charcuterie and canapes. Last month their consumption would have been deemed dangerous when Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, said government scientists believed too much red meat could cause cancer. Yesterday, however, Margaret Wichelow, of Cambridge University, published results of a study among 3,660 adults which showed red-meat- eaters run no greater risk from cancer than those who abstain. "It is ... confusing for the general public. It possibly was not wise for the Government to issue the recommendations when they did. It might have been premature."
Back at Butchers' Hall, Charles Campion, the London Evening Standard Magazine's portly food writer, pulled from his pocket a film-wrapped pack of supermarket beef and held it aloft so he could rubbish it. We should, he said, eat less meat. There were gasps of horror until he said less, but better quality. And that seemed an appropriate theme because, for all its hedonistic bluster, the message from the club was clear - from vegetables poisoned by organophosphates to meat infected as a result of turning herbivores into cannibals, the food industry had been rumbled. Consumers will stand for it no more.
"People have to remember there is nothing wrong with eating good red meat - or white meat, game, fish, poultry, vegetables," said Ms Paterson, lighting another cigarette. "All these food scares are ridiculous. Just go and get yourself some good, fresh food and enjoy it. That's what God gave it to us for."Reuse content