Dishing the “Mutton Renaissance”

I can’t stand BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme.┬áThis is odd since it’s about my beloved farming industry and food – to which my mind wanders constantly. It’s the propaganda I can’t stomach.

There’s something appallingly smug about its lecturing, and its support of Farmers’ Markets (as though they were green) and organic farming (as though it had a big future) and free-range husbandry (as though it was good for farming’s carbon footprint).

I also love the idea of food provenance. But I choked on one of Sheila Dillon’s remarks in her paeon to eating ancient sheep. She said that there were lots of breeds of sheep in the UK (each with its own homeland) and that each had its own taste. Oh yeah, right. I very much doubt I could tell my Swaledale from my Dorset, for all that I like the idea of a certain loyalty to either.

Once, on Mont St Michel, I ate a leg of lamb which I did believe tasted of the salt marsh on which it grazed.

The best lamb I ever ate was swimming in blood, and came with mash, in a Chicago diner. After that, I’d rate a leg I ate whilst on a Bateau Mouche on the Seine. The waiter had BO, and that somehow infused the lamb he served with its own special authenticity.

A Mexican sociologist in Monterrey once told me that food is almost wholly symbolic. It’s an idea we enshrine with words like “Comfort Food” or “The Roast Beef of Old England”. The Mexican’s argument was that all classes in Mexico are more united in their taste for certain foods than they are divided by differences in income.

I have a passion for a certain sort of food. A radio producer I once worked with in Moscow was irritated by my quest for bad food. “I am not going to spend my evenings walking around this city looking for slurry”, she said. But I wanted gloopy communist stews with globules of lamb fat floating in them. I wouldn’t eat Irish Stew in England, but in Moscow I wanted the authentic clop of the Soviet period.

I have been lucky. In Katovice – in its station – I once went up a grimy staircase to a cafe with a torn curtain half obscuring a grimy window and had a proper awful communist stew. They didn’t know how lucky they were.

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Publication date

17 November 2008

Categories

On TV & Radio