Jonathan Meades: Don't blame poor old Bernard Matthews. We deserve him

Most Britons will go on eating cheaply, greedily and carelessly

Share

They appeared almost overnight in a field in the Wylye valley, east of Warminster. Long, low, prefabricated structures whose shallowly pitched roofs were punctuated by inverted pyramids. These, I was excitedly instructed, represented the future of poultry farming, the future of family lunch.

Chicken would no longer be a parsimoniously carved treat on Sundays when there was an "r" in the month. Turkeys would not be just for Christmas. Want would be a distant memory. There would be plenty of fowl to go with plenty of white goods and plenty of 45rpms.

A decade and a half after the end of the war, the country craved the cheap food it had been promised by Attlee's administration but which had never materialised. The end of meat rationing in the summer of 1954 did not bring with it significant dietary changes. De facto rationing - "shortages" - due to low production and high prices still existed.

Thus there was an eminently sound reason for producing cheap poultry industrially - for "factory farming", which was, initially, a descriptive rather than a pejorative epithet.

Along with keg beer, there was also an eminently sound reason for mass-producing social housing, again employing new, often untried and invariably cheap methods and materials. Quickly erected, vertical human hutches quickly suffered building failures or, at least, failures of maintenance.

The collective perception of neophilia applied to wallop and home was that it was a bad thing. But then intoxication and habitation are more important to the British than the quality (as opposed to quantity) of what we eat.

The bien pensant received opinion about Bernard Matthews may be that every turkey he produces adds to his offences against taste and husbandry. That's a lot of offences.

This smug, bucolic recidivist owns 57farms - an evidently magic figure in the sump area of food production - and sells eight million turkeys per annum. And an overwhelming proportion of the population buys his produce, or produce that is reared by similar methods and which is similarly insipid.

That 160,000 of his turkeys may be destroyed will no doubt come as a blessed release to the wretched creatures who won't be kept waiting all year in conditions that should not be tolerated. But it will make no difference to Bernard's punters, nor to his future fortunes.

The 55 million Britons who have not enjoyed the preposterously bruited gastronomic revolution and ghettoised food fetishisation of the past 20 years will continue to eat cheaply, tastelessly, unhealthily, greedily and, above all, carelessly: it's not an important concern.

The mediation of food in Britain, save by Francine Lawrence and Joanna Blythman, takes no account of the grim, emetic actuality. It is treated as a fashion item, an appendage to British culture, rather than as something which should be central to our life. What we ingest is not a cap we don. There is a connection between the eternal cycles of scares and this frivolous approach which pathetically exculpates itself by pointing to Jamie Oliver, a sort of gastro-Bono contracted to Sainsbury's, who isn't really going to save us from ourselves.

We are, anyway, probably unsaveable. History is against us. The early industrialisation of agriculture, the enclosures and the subsequent scarcity of smallholdings mean that Britain's food production can never emulate the intimate scale and localisation of France where high quality is routinely demanded, pan-global choice is a source of bemusement, culinary novelty is treated with suspicion, and there exists a notion - quite alien to Britain - of correctness in both production and preparation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz