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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Will playing a farting corpse allow Daniel Radcliffe to finally shake off his Hogwarts associations?

Radcliffe is dead good in Swiss Army Man – meaning he is both good, and dead. Plus: Deepwater Horizon.

Actors who try to shake off a clean-cut ­image risk looking gimmicky or insincere – think of Julie Andrews going topless in SOB, or Christopher Reeve kissing Michael Caine in Deathtrap. Daniel Radcliffe has tried to put serious distance between himself and Hogwarts in his choice of adult roles, which have included Allen Ginsberg (in Kill Your Darlings) and an FBI agent going undercover as a white supremacist (Imperium), but it is with the macabre new comedy Swiss Army Man that he stands the best chance of success. He’s good in the film. Dead good. He has to be: he’s playing a flatulent corpse in a moderate state of putrefaction. If ever there was a film that you were glad wasn’t made in Odorama, this is it.

The body washes up on an island at the very moment a shipwrecked young man, Hank (Paul Dano), is attempting to hang himself. He scampers over to the corpse, which he nicknames Manny, and realises he could use its abundant gases to propel himself across the ocean. Once they reach another shore and hide out in the woods, Hank discovers all sorts of uses for his new friend. Cranked open, the mouth dispenses endless quantities of water. The teeth are sharp enough to shave with. A spear, pushed deep into Manny’s gullet, can be fired by pressing down on his back, thereby turning him into an effective hunting weapon.

On paper, this litany of weirdness reads like a transparent attempt to manufacture a cult film, if that term still has any currency now that every movie can claim to have a devoted online following. The surprising thing about Swiss Army Man is that it contains a robust emotional centre beneath the morbid tomfoolery. It’s really a buddy movie in which one of the buddies happens to have expired. That doesn’t stop Manny being a surprisingly lively companion. He talks back at his new friend (“Shall I just go back to being dead?” he huffs during an argument), though any bodily movements are controlled by Hank, using a pulley system that transforms Manny into a marionette.

The gist of the film is not hard to grasp. Only by teaching Manny all the things he has forgotten about life and love can the depressed Hank reconnect with his own hope and humanity. This tutelage is glorious: improbably ambitious DIY models, costumes and sets (including a bus constructed from branches and bracken) are put to use in play-acting scenes that recall Michel Gondry at his most inspired. If only the screenplay – by the directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – didn’t hammer home its meanings laboriously. Manny’s unembarrassed farting becomes a metaphor for all the flaws and failings we need to accept about one another: “Maybe we’re all just ugly and it takes just one person to be OK with that.” And maybe screenwriters could stop spelling out what audiences can understand perfectly well on their own.

What keeps the film focused is the tenderness of the acting. Dano is a daredevil prone to vanishing inside his own eccentricity, while Radcliffe has so few distinguishing features as an actor that he sometimes seems not to be there at all. In Swiss Army Man they meet halfway. Dano is gentler than ever, Radcliffe agreeably deranged. Like all good relationships, it’s a compromise. They make a lovely couple.

What to say about Deepwater Horizon? It’s no disaster as a disaster movie. Focusing on the hows and whys of the most catastrophic accident in US oil drilling history, when an explosion consumed an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, it doesn’t stint on blaming BP. Yet it sticks so faithfully to the conventions of the genre – earthy blue-collar hero (Mark Wahlberg), worried wife fretting at home (Kate Hudson), negligent company man (John Malkovich) – that familiarity overrides suspense and outrage.

The effects are boringly spectacular, which is perhaps why the most chilling moment is a tiny detail: a crazed seagull, wings drenched in oil, flapping madly on the deck long before the fires start. As a harbinger of doom, it’s only mildly more disturbing than Malkovich’s strangulated accent. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories