Editor-At-Large: We slap on £50 face cream but won't buy a free-range chicken

The British feast on poultry kept in vile conditions and don't give a stuff how bacon's cured as long as it's pink and appealing
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The Independent Online

The humble chicken has a whole new flock of celebrity friends – Channel 4 has unveiled a season of food programmes hosted by Jamie, Gordon and Hugh which aims to shock us into refusing to eat poultry that isn't reared humanely. The week before, the plastic bag was declared the most unfashionable accessory for the eco-aware. Now it's the turn of the battery-reared chicken to be demonised and unwelcome on the tables of the fashionable up and down the land.

Next year, Jamie's Fowl Dinners will chart the progress of mass-produced chicken from the farm to our plates, culminating in a gala chicken dinner for celebrities and ordinary punters who will hear all about the horrors of mass-produced poultry from Mr Oliver himself. Meanwhile, Gordon Ramsay will be hosting a live cooking show and encouraging members of the public to take part in his Cook-a-Long-a-Gordon Live and improve their catering skills. Finally, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will present Hugh's Chicken Run, a three-part series confronting our major supermarkets over selling chickens produced using cruel and unnatural rearing techniques.

While I applaud this testosterone-fuelled three-pronged campaign to try to get us to think about what we eat, I do laugh at the time and effort being invested in improving the life of the lowly chook. Sure, I choose organic free-range chickens and free-range eggs – they taste better. But the majority of the British public has yet to make the connection between the unspeakable farming practices that service our addiction to cheap chow. We'll happily shell out hundreds of pounds on the latest gadgetry such as iPods, phones, computer games and BlackBerrys, but we resent spending more than a certain amount on feeding the family.

We think nothing of slapping cream on our faces costing £50 a pot – and then whinge when a free-range chicken costs £10, failing to spot how illogical it is to shove factory-reared muck into a body wearing designer clothes. Personally, I am happy to spend whatever it costs to eat food that has been produced decently and has had a relatively enjoyable life. I don't want to buy beef that has been fed on animal waste either – I'd prefer to cook meat that tastes of grass and marshland rather than chemicals or additives. I also want to eat beef that has not been shut up in a shed for most of its adult life. But all my choices cost more, and there is no evidence that most shoppers agree with me.

The British public gives huge amounts of money to animal charities, but barely spares a moment thinking about what kind of lives the meat and poultry that they eat each week will have experienced. They feast on horrible reconstituted meat in convenience foods, happily buy eggs laid by chickens cooped up in vile conditions. The public don't want to know what these chickens eat (and why so many of them taste of fish) just as they couldn't give a stuff how bacon is cured – it's just got to be pink and attractive in the packet.

So, it's great that these three chaps are going to attempt a massive re-education exercise, but you might also like to spare a thought this winter for another group who often live in cramped conditions without adequate nutrition and care– the elderly and the vulnerable. The charity Mencap last week produced figures showing that 75 per cent of local authorities now ration their social services, meaning that the most needy are not getting the help they desperately need.

It would be nice if Channel 4 thought that human beings were as important as chickens, but don't hold your breath. Celebrity chefs get ratings and are cute. Incontinent teenagers and dribbling pensioners don't make sexy telly, do they?

Hillary takes on the Saudis, we grovel to them

Hillary Clinton hasn't been afraid to speak out against the sentencing of a young woman to 200 lashes in Saudi Arabia, calling it "an outrage". The so-called criminal had committed the unpardonable offence of travelling in a car with a member of the opposite sex. She was stopped by a group of seven men who raped both of them.

Four were convicted of kidnapping, but the woman and her friend have been convicted of "illegal mingling" and a court increased her sentence from 90 lashes to 200. Hillary condemned President Bush for failing to rebuke the Saudis. King Abdullah spent the other week being wined and dined by the Queen, fêted by Gordon Brown and grovelled to by various members of our Government keen to flog him everything from weapons to planes. Why hasn't every single female government minister also expressed "outrage"? Why did they not protest at the red-carpet treatment dished out to a ruler who bans women from driving? Because they are Gordon's puppets, pure and simple.

Verity - my difficult, demandingfriend and inspiration

Verity Lambert, who died of cancer last Thursday, was simply the most successful female drama producer working in British television. Her recent credits included Love Soup and Jonathan Creek (starring Alan Davies) for the BBC. Verity had started out as the youngest producer ever, when she was promoted from her humble job as production secretary to run the very first series of Dr Who. She became the first woman to be head of drama for a British broadcaster (Thames Television) and was responsible for award-winning hits for all our major channels such as Minder, Edward and Mrs Simpson, The Flame Trees of Thika – the list spans more than 40 years.

She produced an engrossing film about Lindy Chamberlain, starring Meryl Streep as the widely misunderstood Australian mother who was charged with murdering her baby and who claimed that the child had been eaten by wild dingos. Verity wasn't just a friend, she was inspirational to all the women like me who worked in television.

To Verity, the writer was all-important, and she was never willing to compromise standards. She was a class act – driven, thoroughly opinionated, endlessly inquisitive. She was working on a new series until a month before her death. People often ask me if I had any role models when I started out – there was only Verity in an industry completely dominated by men. We used to go on holiday and spend the whole time arguing about the cooking – and once we spent a fortnight on Crete, managing to change flats five times because nothing was up to her exacting standards. Irreplaceable.

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