Have a butchers? We hide from the truth about meat

A campaign to remove carcasses from the display window of a Sudbury butchers shows just how far we will go to ignore the bloody reality

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The Independent Online

On a recent edition of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson held up a bacon sandwich (I can't remember why): “Ah, the bacon sandwich,” he said. “The only known cure for...vegetarianism”. It was a neat joke - like all the best ones, rooted in reality - but I found myself fantasising about an anti-Clarkson figure, who'd turn up on a popular TV show, hold up the severed head of a pig, and say: “Ah, the pig's head. The only known cure for...meat-eating”.

We are too squeamish about the precise origin of the meat on our plate, and the methods by which it gets to us, and the Battle of the Butcher of Borehamwood Precinct tells us much about our double standards when it comes to meat-eating. There, in Sudbury in the heart of Suffolk, a campaign was launched to get JBS Butchers to remove the display of animal carcasses, game birds, and, yes, pigs' heads from his window. He bowed to public pressure, and withdrew his Damien Hirst-esque still life window display.

It had been a very English campaign. Letters were written to the local paper, started by a man who said he didn't want his 12-year-old daughter seeing “mutilated carcasses” when she was on her way to the sweet shop. It became a topic of debate on local radio stations. A petition was started, and a boycott of the shopping centre was mooted. As a result, JBS took the dead bodies out of the window. Where once hares and pheasants hung, there was a sign which said simply: “Due to complaints there is no window display!”

Cue the backlash. Give us our severed heads and bloody flesh back, insisted the now-vocal majority, spurred on by the forces of conservatism (aka the Daily Mail), who characterised this as a battle of touchy-feely, metropolitan liberalism versus age-old Middle England customs. Of course, it's a little more complicated than that, but JBS Butchers, having benefited from the publicity about taking down their display, have received another burst of positive PR by vowing to bring it back. The beast of political correctness has been slayed, butchered and hung up for all to see.

I very rarely eat red meat, for health rather than ethical reasons, but I believe that those who do should be happy to embrace the reality of meat production. In fancy restaurants, they make a song and dance on the menu about the provenance of their meat, but, outside of this privileged environment, no one pays much attention to the bloody process involved in bringing, say, a burger to the plate. Hats off to JBS Butchers, I say. At least they're being honest about their product, illustrating what a steak looks like before it's been flame-grilled.

I wish other retailers would show their products in the raw. Let's see low-price clothes stores have pictures of the conditions in which a pair of £3.50 jeans have been made. We are all too willing to ignore the process, concentrating merely on the output. People should have an opportunity to make an informed decision about what to buy and, in any case, if you can't stand the meat, stay out of the butchers.