British food: in the dock and hard to swallow

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The Independent Online
There is a most extraordinary case going on in the High Court at the moment, in which a health food writer, Josie Metcalfe, is being sued by the British food industry on the grounds that if people did what she recommended, the British economy would collapse. To give you some idea of what people are already calling the Health Trial of the Century, here is an extract from the opening day.

Counsel: Will you tell the court your name?

Metcalfe: Do you mean my real name or the name I write under?

Counsel: Either will do.

Metcalfe: Josie Metcalfe.

Counsel: Is that your real name or the name you write under?

Metcalfe: Neither. That is the name under which I fight my legal actions.

Counsel: Ah! So you have been sued before?

Metcalfe: Yes. Often.

Counsel: Have you ever won?

Metcalfe: I have always won.

Counsel: I think this time will be a little different.

Metcalfe: Why so, chuck?

Counsel: Because you have the massed might of the British food industry against you, with the finest legal brains that money can buy.

Metcalfe: Does that mean you?

Counsel: Yes.

Metcalfe: Then stand up straight.

Counsel: I beg your pardon?

Metcalfe: You may be the finest legal brains in Britain, but your posture is dreadful. Do you ever get pains in your shoulder?

Counsel: Yes, quite often.

Metcalfe: That's because of the way you stand. You're leaning awkwardly, which means ...

Judge: Perhaps I could gently lead the discussion back to the matter in hand, which is the case of the British food industry against Metcalfe.

Counsel: Yes, m'lud. Now, Miss Metcalfe, may I direct your attention to an article you wrote two years ago in Woman's Health Weekly, in which you say as follows: "Most of our troubles would clear up if only we ate less food and bought more fresh vegetables instead of so-called convenience foods." Do you remember writing that?

Metcalfe: Oh, yes. I have written it almost every week since I started writing.

Counsel: Has it ever occurred to you that if people did what you asked, the great British food industry would be severely crippled?

Metcalfe: What's great about it?

Counsel: Answer my question first.

Metcalfe: I can't. I want you to define the terms of your question first. Tell me what this great British food industry is, and I will tell you if I am damaging it or not.

Counsel: I am referring to the vast and efficient structure which brings food from the producer to the people ...

Metcalfe: Ah! You mean, the industry that clogs our roads with heavy polluting lorries? The system which takes lettuces from a field in Devon to a market in London and then all the way back again to sell in Devon? The industry which insists that all cucumbers must be wastefully shrink- wrapped?

Counsel: On the contrary, I am talking about the nationwide network of distributors and processors which has for the first time in history ensured that every customer has the chance to buy the food he or she wants.

Metcalfe: You mean, the industry which has given Scotland the worst eating habits in Europe? Which has caused the Welsh to give up green vegetables to such an extent that the Government is worried? And saturated the Northern Irish in fatty eating habits? Which is killing thousands of people a day?

Judge: Would someone please PLEASE tell me what this is all about?

Counsel: Certainly, m'lud. This is the meaningless opening fencing session in which learned counsel and defendant exchange insults and try to browbeat each other.

Judge: Hmm. Do you wish to add anything, Mrs Metcalfe?

Metcalfe: Yes. Do you ever get stomach pains?

Judge: Far too often.

Metcalfe: Then sit up straight, and you won't.

Judge: Thank you. Carry on.

More of this trail-blazing trial tomorrow, I hope.