Moo closer: presenter Michael Mosley
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Cattle royale: why red meat should be a treat

Chicken is permitted to remain on the all-you-can-eat buffet, even if it has been produced in a vast shed containing 54,000 birds. Ditto mussels.

Should I Eat Meat?
BBC2

Michael Mosley’s latest two-part documentary series, Should I Eat Meat? (18 and 20 August, 9pm), covered some drearily familiar territory. It took him a full hour to provide us, in essence, with the advice that the American foodie academic Michael Pollan previously reduced to just seven words (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”) and yet another to reveal that our ever-growing taste for beef is unsustainable. (Most of us know by now that cattle produce massive amounts of planet-warming methane but this didn’t stop Mosley from measuring their belches and farts with a hand-held device more often used to detect emissions from ropy gas fires.) Yawning and restless, I found my mind frequently wandering to such important matters as Mosley’s hairstyle, the shape of his mouth and the likely size of the royalties he has received for his bestselling book The Fast Diet.

Still, there was one eye-popping interlude, particularly for cow-phobes (striding through fields, I’m always convinced that I will be trampled to death like the lecherous Nicholas Hardiment in the Posy Simmonds comic Tamara Drewe). In the second film, Mosley visited yet another white-coated scientist. This one was trying to discover more about the digestive systems of ruminants. In a shed, there stood a cow. It was a perfectly ordinary brown cow, or so it seemed at first. On closer inspection, however, it was revealed to have a substantial porthole in its left flank. Yes, a porthole. The scientist approached the cow, which was contentedly munching its way through a bucket of hay. From the porthole, he then removed a rubber plug, thus providing us with a clear view of the cow’s rumen (the first and largest of its stomachs), inside which there churned and pulsated a hot, green mass of partially digested hay. Ugh! It was like watching a living, breathing washing machine, only minus the Daz, the Comfort and the clean knickers.

Mosley, as ever eager to join in, slipped a long, plastic glove on to his right arm, reached in and duly pulled out a hefty plug of the green stuff. “There’s quite a smell,” he said, wrinkling his nose prettily. At this point, I expected the animal to give him a good kick. Alas, the cow was unperturbed. Its tail swished mildly; its jaw continued doggedly to move from side to side. Not even so much as a “moo” was forthcoming. Mosley then set off to visit a “concentrated animal-feeding operation” somewhere in the American Midwest. Thanks to its vast scale, I now found myself in full-blown nightmare territory. It was as if he had unaccountably landed on a planet populated entirely by cattle. All those doleful, black eyes staring out at him . . . Faced with such a prospect in the Peak District, I would have no option but to lock myself in the nearest pub and telephone for an air ambulance.

Lately, Mosley has been all about giving advice. It’s not only the “5:2 diet” we have to thank (or blame) him for; he has also helped to popularise the three-minute-long exercise regime known as “high-intensity training”. No wonder the Daily Mail can’t get enough of him. So, what did he have for us on the meat front? It came down to this: if we want to prolong our lives and that of the planet, we should eat less red meat. It should be a treat, as it was for our grandparents. Chicken, though, is permitted to remain on the all-you-can-eat buffet, even if it has been produced in a vast shed containing 54,000 birds (Mosley was weirdly unworried by the experience of visiting such a farm). Ditto mussels.

If you’re a Mosley follower and are worrying about what all this means in practice, then don’t. You only eat properly five days a week anyway. This is going to be a cinch! Used wisely, a decent-sized chicken will last four days. First, you roast it. Then you use the leftovers in a risotto, a pilaf, or even a pie. Finally, with the bones, you make a hearty soup. Your daily exercise can be completed in less time than it takes to boil an egg, so you will easily have the energy for all this cooking. On the fifth day, you may fry yourself a tiny steak and feel wonderfully holy, your new cheekbones glowing with piety and conviction, just like the ever-sagacious Mosley’s. 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 20 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, What the Beatles did for Britain

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit