Tuesday, May 06, 2008

They don't like it up 'em

This link made me cheer:

Better still, it led to this link about Andy Holt, a hero in my book, and an official 'Grand Knight of the Black Pudding'.

Back in Kigali now, but the good news on the food front is that I've finally got around to visiting 'New Cactus'. It won't appear in the reviews until I've been back for another visit, but its already looking well placed due the rareness of its steak, crispyness of its chips, and relaxed atmosphere.

Also, I need reminding to write up a recipe for monkfish, chorizo and chickpea stew.

Celebrity Chicken Chefs

Since I'm not resident in the UK these days (are you listening Inland revenue?), it takes a little while for whatever frivolity is making up the current zeitgeist to filter through - usually through the Guardian online.

It seems that some of Britain's best known celebrity chefs, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (seems like a solid fellow, genuine, likable) and Jamie Oliver (overexposed, annoying, on the Sainsbury's payroll) can't get enough of the chicken industry at the moment. Obviously I'm with them on this, and have been advocating organic chickens on this blog since it started (nice of them to catch up). I thought that it was obvious to many people that the way intensively reared chickens are treated is pretty foul (no pun intended). Add to the that the threat of bird flu, and the profiteering of supermarkets against the nations health, and the price of a £2.99 chicken starts to look a little different.

Depressingly, many households have to budget carefully, and perceive that our principles, and indeed health, cost money and are only accessible to the - mainly - better off types who buy Jamie and Hugh's cookery books. I'm acutely aware of this: my own family was a victim of Thatcher-induced hardship in the 1980's. However, my mother didn't fill her shopping basket with rump steak and ice cream - she had to make the pennies stretch a little via the magic of potato stew. Our expectations had to change as we dreamed of tightening our belts around Maggie's neck.

So, lets look at it a different way. A £2.99 chicken from the supermarket isn't a loss leader - the supermarkets are making money on it. Take away the profits, and the cost of transporting it, packaging it, and keeping it refridgerated on a shelf for a few days and the real cost of the animal is buttons. My parent's generation would have considered buying a whole chicken to be a treat, and now we can go out and buy one for a little more than the price of a pint. Its not that organic or free range chicken is expensive, its that the intensively reared chickens are too cheap.

In Kenya they have a crop, a brassica similar to spring greens or kale, called 'Sukuma wiki'. Literally this translates as 'pushing the week'. Sukuma is a nutritous foodstuff many Kenyans use to pad out their more limited supplies of beans and meat throughout the week. Meat is an unaffordable luxury to many Kenyans. In the UK, we have the opposite problem - our surplus of cheap meat, means that most families can afford to munch their way through high volumes of mechanically recovered slop, and cheap chickens.

I'm not arguing that we deny chicken to the working classes, but this is a simple matter of economics. I don't eat Dover sole or fillet steak every night of the week, or even once a month - I simply can't afford to. I make the luxuries (and I include organic chickens here) last, and get through the week eating stir-fries, pasta, and omelettes. I would even consider one of those chilled pizza things that you get from the supermarket to be a luxury - at £3 a go they're more than three times what the midweek bowl of pasta would set me back, and more than 10% of a generous weekly shopping budget for one. Despite the cost, many of my old colleagues in the UK regarded that as an ordinary midweek supper.

Like most of modern society's ills (global warming, global inequality, ridiculous house prices, crap TV) I blame the baby boomers. They were born into an era when rationing still lingered after WWII, but as the economy picked up they enjoyed, and still continue to enjoy, improved - almost limitless - lifestyles seemingly without consequence.

Now the pressure is on my generation, and today's children to step back, scale down our conspicuous consumption, and heed the words of the wise first-nation people of America. We need to look at how we consume everything - from newspapers, oil and electricty, down to the chicken we put on our table.

So, instead you fork out £6 on a nice, tasty organic bird. It might be a big chunk out of the household food budget, but its easy to make it last longer using a mixture of creativity and healthy portion control.In the UK, especially when we eat out, there seems to be an unhealthy balance between the amount of meat that appears on the plate, and the quantity of veg, and/or carbs to fill up on. I'm guilty of this. When I roast a chicken I'll generally eat a whole leg, and some big chunks of breast, and maybe some crispy skin - this will be on top of a happy medley of other veg and spud and gravy. I don't need it, but I'm pretty gluttonous. So are most people I know.

There is no reason why a £6 chicken can't be eked out for more than one meal. Less meat on the plate for a starter, and less waste in the bin. Treat the problem from both ends of the pipe.

Mrs jiffler and I can typically get at least three meals out of a small chicken:

  • Roast dinner for two.
  • Chicken salad or sandwiches for lunch.
  • Soup or risotto using the stock and leftover pieces of chicken.

Suddenly £6 doesn't seem so bad. A pound per person per meal for the meaty bits, and probably another pound per person per meal for the rest - and its good eating too. Hearty, healthy food that fills you up. Apply the maths to a family of four and you can still get a roast dinner and a risotto out of it.