Kill it, tweet it, eat it: Jeanette Winterson has got the right attitude to meat

Whatever the bunny-lovers say, being prepared to kill what you eat is admirable

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The Independent Online

Like Jeanette Winterson, I fight a prolonged and bitter battle with rabbits. Earlier this week, the novelist had tweeted a photo she’d taken of a dead and half-skinned rabbit that had been eating its way through her parsley patch.

Rabbits aren’t furry and cute, but pests, voraciously eating anything green in front of their stupid little noses. Rabbits are uninvited guests – along with grey squirrels, pheasants, slugs, deer and wood pigeons. My vegetable plot has more security than a Madonna dinner party. A dense wire fence has been dug deep into the soil. A thick stone wall runs around the perimeter, and finally a thick, prickly hawthorn hedge. Triple protection.

Any rabbits that penetrate that lot are condemned to death. If I thought I’d be any good with a gun, I’d shoot them myself.

On MasterChef last year, I described how I regularly skinned and cooked pheasants I found dead in the road, cutting off the breasts and beating the meat flat into escalopes. Coated with toasted breadcrumbs and fried, they are delicious.

Funnily enough, the word “roadkill” didn’t make the final programme, probably for fear of offending BBC1 viewers. Years ago, I made a film showing a butcher skinning and chopping up a rabbit, and Channel 4 received more than 50 complaints. Most of us don’t want reality when it comes to meat. We want ditsy cuts, nothing that looks like a carcass. My attitude is similar to Jeanette’s. I want my meat to have had a good life, to roam freely and, when slaughtered, every bit should be eaten or used.

Meat is not an everyday essential but a special treat. One of the reasons people squirm at the thought of eating a furry animal is because they divorce what they eat from reality. It is basically chunky slurry they slurp down without much thought.

Food has turned into cleverly packaged fuel. Ironically, most chefs now list the provenance of everything on their menus – from butter, to bread, to salt. They tell us who landed the fish, and where the meat was bred. But most of us don’t like food that looks too realistic, unless we are fans of chef Fergus Henderson at London’s St John restaurants – 90 per cent of whose clientele will be male, usually architects.

Top chefs create dishes that look like artworks – dibs and dabs surrounding a carefully constructed little picture on the plate, and as far removed from the pulsating living creature as you could possibly imagine. Meat is filleted, trimmed, stacked and cut down to size. All the potentially unsettling aspects are cosmeticised into something playful and welcoming.

I once wrote off Mark Zuckerberg as a bit of a nerd, but in 2011 he did something that made me respect him immensely. Each year, the Facebook billionaire sets himself a new task. Previously he’s learnt Chinese. In 2011, he announced that he was setting out on a “new personal challenge”, and would be eating meat only “from animals I’ve killed myself”.

He learnt the best way to rear livestock, and soon revealed that he had killed a chicken, a pig and a goat. He cut the throat of the goat with a knife, claiming it “was the most kind way to do it”. He ate most of the animals he dispatched, including chicken hearts and livers, using the feet to make stock, and he posted the recipes he cooked on Facebook.

He then moved on to seafood, boiling a live lobster, and said he planned to go hunting. Apart from eating the meat he slaughtered, Zuckerberg claims to be a vegetarian. Like Winterson, he has attracted considerable adverse comment, but let’s be clear – Zuckerberg’s the one with the healthy attitude, not the feeble bunny lovers.



I’m with Alan Bennett: get rid of fee-paying schools

I don’t agree with Alan Bennett very often, but he is right about private education. It is disgusting – the single thing that holds our society back and reinforces an unpleasant mindset. Well done, Alan, for pulling no punches in a speech in Cambridge last week, when he launched into a full-bodied attack on fee-paying schools.

He said that “to educate not according to ability but according to the social situation of parents is both wrong and a waste… private education is not fair”. Then he chucked in for good measure: “And it’s not Christian either… souls are equal in the sight of God and thus deserving of a level playing field.”

Of course Alan is 100 per cent right, and no government has the guts or the balls to tackle this gross injustice, whereby the people who get the best education and have the greatest chance of rising up through the ranks nearly always come from the homes where their parents can pay up. There’s no other way of putting it.

If I were in charge of Britain plc, I would immediately close all public schools and reintroduce grammar schools with entrance exams, open to all. I would redistribute all the swanky playing fields so that ordinary kids had somewhere to perfect their sporting prowess. As long as privately educated people dominate our professional and managerial classes, this country will never tap into its potential.


What about creative architecture for our homes?

The longlist of 56 buildings for this year’s Stirling Prize has been announced, and ranges from the macho – the Shard – to the inspiring – Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary Olympics Aquatics Centre, now open to the public. Other public buildings include a library in Birmingham and the redevelopment of King’s Cross Station, which I regularly use. (My only beef is the ugly kiosk marooned on the piazza at the front of the building which still seems to be surrounded by cones and tape.)

Other contenders include a civic centre, a theatre, an art gallery and a youth centre, but the more you peruse this list, the more you realise there’s one glaring omission. Ordinary houses for ordinary people. The one thing we are crying out for in Britain.

New statistics reveal that most of the population is living in tiny boxes with four-fifths of the poorest households living in cramped conditions, and new homes average only 76sq m of floor space, the smallest in Europe. Isn’t it about time architects confronted the most pressing problem of our time – decent housing that allows people a humane amount of space? Designing a big showpiece station or sports centre is far more attractive a proposition, it seems.


Reggae legend who provided the soundtrack to my youth

I was sorry to read of the death of the Jamaican DJ Count Suckle. His clubs were a big part of my youth growing up in west London in the 1960s. My love affair with Desmond Dekker, the haunting voice of Gregory Isaacs, chirpy Prince Buster and the irrepressible sounds of ska and bluebeat started when I was a 15-year-old mod growing up in Fulham.

Count Suckle was one of the first DJs to play the music in clubs, introducing it to a hip white audience, which included the Rolling Stones, Long John Baldry and the Yardbirds. In the late 1960s, we would head to his Roaring Twenties in a basement off Carnaby Street, where jolly middle-aged women wearing tight frocks used to sell spliffs out of their handbags, and a mirror ball spun over the centre of the dancefloor.

Suckle’s Cue Club on Praed Street in Paddington was bigger and flashier and featured live acts such as Edwin Starr and Ben E King. Suckle was an important part of the London music scene and will be missed. Perhaps it’s time for a BBC documentary. They’ve done plenty about less deserving musicians.

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