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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.

Moo closer: presenter Michael Mosley
Moo closer: presenter Michael Mosley

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.