I got caught out badly on Sunday night. I was flicking through Sky TV in that aimless fashion that continues to confirm my worst fears; television may be mostly harmless but it is also mostly grim viewing.
I fell upon a repeat episode from BBC 3’s, “Kill it, Cook it, Eat it” series on one of the channels. The programme concentrates on the lives of farm animals and their short passage from birth to cooking pan.
I became interested almost immediately as this episode concerned veal. I like to cook, and am especially interested in experimenting with a variety of foods.
Veal is a meat I am unfamiliar with and hoped I could learn more about. I had often wondered what it tasted like as, to my knowledge, I have never tried it.
This was to be no tame, culinary education on my part, though. The programme concentrated on the lack of popularity of veal amongst UK consumers, citing that many are put off by the relative short lifespan of each calf, many of which are slaughtered at 6 months of age; as well as the misinformed notion that veal is a tough, tasteless meat.
In fact, if cooked properly, as the programme demonstrated, it is as tender, tasty and nutritious a meat as you could wish to find.
As so often is the case, when the British palate stubbornly refuses to indulge the tremendous variety of locally produced and naturally occurring foodstuffs found within it’s land, and waters, its neighbours in France toast to its ignorance, raise their glasses, and avail of the product themselves.
However, in general, the prospect of rearing veal calves is not an economical one for most farmers in the UK, at least, that is, according to this programme. Farmers tend not to make a good return on their product, due to this lack of popularity.
One farmer complained that it was pointless to raise a calf for any period of time and go to the expense of taking it to market only for it to be sold for a nominal amount; £6 in the case he mentioned.
Up to this point, I had always considered veal to be an expensive meat because I believed it was considered a delicacy and therefore very expensive; hence its scarcity on our supermarket shelves. Now I was being told that it sold for £6 as a whole, live, though still maturing unit.
At this point the theme switched to the farmer’s hired hit-man and executioner. He arrived by lorry dressed in a grey, waterproof raincoat and trousers; and held a handgun, semi-concealed in his left hand.
He climbed over the gate of a straw-floored pen where x2, six-week old calves were casually pacing about in the blissful innocence of their lives. He approached one from the front and aimed the gun directly at the temple of its head; the calf approached the barrel quizzically, briefly touching it with its moist nose. The man took a step back and fired once, the opening of the barrel less than 6 inches from the head of his target.
A dark, vacant hole immediately appeared between the eyes of the calf, like some sort of magic spell had been cast upon it. Its legs buckled and collapsed in an instant as its head bounced on the straw-covered ground upon impact. “The brain is dead but the nervous system will cause the body to convulse for a period of time,” remarked the commentator, as the flawlessly formed body of the young animal shook uncontrollably on the straw floor and bright red blood now flowed from the gaping hole in its head.
The man was already in front of the second calf whose curiosity in the gun was immediately extinguished as a shot rang out and it too collapsed and convulsed in front of the camera.
Death in an instant exacted on 2 helpless, trusting young animals. They were to have no cognizance at all of the fate that was to befall them. That, some would say, is a blessing, at least. Yes, I suppose that’s right.
But normally I can handle these events and attempt to reason them away and subdue any conflict that may arise in my emotional response. I’ve learned to develop a thick skin to cope with the hard reality of life as it serves up one cold, unreasonable outcome on top of another.
But this night I was off-guard, presumably in some vulnerable, emotional place feeling like a reluctant resident yet bound for the time being.
Perhaps it was because I’d left my kid with his mum earlier that evening. Maybe I was missing him and the fact I don’t get to be with him for 3 or 4 nights of the week now when every instinct, thought and emotion persuades me that being with him is where I should and must be and that not being there for him means that I can’t affect what happens to him.
Perhaps I think too much, and worry too much – I’ve certainly inherited a worry-gene.
Or, maybe, what happened to those animals was simply wrong and that life is tough and unpredictable enough without snuffing it out merely because it causes temporary, financial inconvenience and it, for once, genuinely appalled me in a profound way.
Perhaps my usual defences were down and as a consequence the truth seeped through like a blade that pierces between the ribs into the heart.
In the end though, I’m pleased to report that I’ve since recovered. I’m a normally functioning, fully integrated, meat-eating member of society once more. I shall just have to build up those defences even stronger and less permeable than before.
Heaven forbid that I should become an emotional victim of the utterly pointless and cruel prejudices we sometimes serve on that most valuable of all things, life itself.