If ever a campaign was ddomed to long term failure, this would surely be it. But if ever there was a more worthy campaign, however doomed, I have not seen it. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has fast made his name as someone who cares where his plateful originates, and has built a successful business and TV strand on the back of it. The various outing s of the RIver Cottage brand has become famous, though maybe to a more select few than it deserves.
Hugh’s latest presentation has been that of his Chickens Out campaign, with which I am proud to associate myself. The chicken out, in this case, refers to getting chicken out of the barns and back to the pastures and woodland where they belong and where they are happy and content. But this is not some puritanical vegan plea, this has a worthwhile selfish motive, as well as a caring one.
The first is to stop the cruelty exhibited byt he 95% of producers in this country when they cram chickens under cover – however many bales of straw they through in. The second, selfish endeavour, is to simply encoruage the production of a finer bird for out tables.
In France, 40% of chicken production is free range, with most of the intensive farming going on chicken products and for export. McDonald, for instance. On the high street, the vast bulk of the chickens are small, beautifully produced, free range birds. In the UK, on the other hand, getting a free range bird from anywhere is an uphill fight. But we have two problems here. For too long our culture, food wise, has been about quantity not quality, and second we have shown the most blatant case of not giving a damn. We want enormous, fat tasteless breasts on our plate, and damn the bird in the process. We are obese, flatulent and spiteful, and the bird is suffering for our excess.
In recent times I have started buying smaller, free range birds – smaller because I cannot afford big free range birds. But what delight! I have discovered the stronger more satisfying taste of the smaller bird, and realised in the process that I do not miss the quantity. My salads have grown, my vegetables exhibit a growth in variety, and my meals have taken on a new vitality. My cooking has also simplified, as these better tasting birds take far less work – they are delightful as they are.
So, back to Hugh’s noble campaign. The three part show on channel 4 was an eye-opener, even to myself who has been banging on about this for 20 years or more. The direct, sickening comparison between barn and free range was violent and obscene. It was simply a condemnation of the continuing rip-off food practices of this country, established post-war during rationing and given new impetus by the deceitful supermarket lobbies. Hugh’s campaign deserves to succeed, purely on the evidence presented in the programme alone. But it does not and should not end there.
We should care about our food. We should make it a priority that our food is sustainable, well cared for and yet accessible to all, not just those of higher income brackets. How we do this, of course, is a touch of a mystery, but it may take getting rid of Kentucky and many prepacked rubbish and concentrating on small is beautiful in the process. Afterall, we also have a waistline issue in this country.
My guts tell me this will fail. My heart tells me, however, that we should all try and make this campaign succeed – just in case! Go and sign up at Chicken Out right now