07 January, 2012

Butchering realism

I think Jamie Oliver should be knighted. Sure, he's long since lost the affability of The Naked Chef days, and his insistence on calling every woman he meets darlin', regardless of age or race, is annoying to say the least. But he gets food. And he gets that Britain has a wonderful food culture, both indigenous and imported, and has devoted his career to convincing people of that fact. I believe that's worth acknowledging.

For all that, I don't spend a lot of time watching him on the tele. I couldn't resist tuning in for Jamie's Great Britain last night, however, when I read this description of the episode in The Age:

This week's instalment...includes an unusually graphic and lengthy butchering scene...Jamie carts off a dead pig and hacks it to pieces with a saw. Only the most hardened carnivores will be able to sit through the bone-slicing scene.
Here's a link to a portion of the episode containing the scene:

The scene starts with an inspection of the breed of pigs in question, at about the 2 min mark, and the 'graphic and lengthy' scene is over about a minute later, most of which has been taken up with chatter.

It seems a particularly overwrought description for something you could see if you looked past the counter of my local butchers on any Saturday.

The journalist did go on to point out:

There are some who would say that it's about time we saw such realism in our cooking shows, that if we're going to eat meat, we should face up to where it comes from. Those viewers are probably right. But I challenge you to daydream about Oliver's crackling after you've watched a pig get sawn in half.

I agree with the notion of the first clause, and wholeheartedly with the second clause. I don't see how you can call for realism though and then be shocked by this scene. To do so seems the mindset of someone who thinks meat is manufactured, rather than grown, into steak-sized portions, shrink-wrapped and sold.

I do eat meat, and I do think about where the food came from and what the animal went through, and I can tell you it went through much more gruesome stuff than what this clip shows. In it we see Jamie meeting the pigs, talking to the farmer, bringing out a dead pig and then about 10-15sec of cutting it up, while he chats to the butchers. There's no blood, there's no noise, there's no skinning.

I absolutely agree we have to know more about where out meat comes from, but it seems to be disingenuous to be squeamish about this. We should be far more shocked by footage of a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) than by the posthumous fate of these hand-reared animals.

I acknowledge that for those against the consumption of animal products it would be upsetting regardless, but if a scene like this upsets any carnivores, I suggest they give up on crackling altogether.

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