Birds of a feather

Cheap turkey needn't be the only way to economise on food

There should be a word for the uncelebratory righteousness you feel when a grim event illustrates your contentions. Such a word would apply to the response of many of us to the bird flu outbreak at the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk.

One hundred and sixty thousand turkeys have been gassed, and people's livelihoods, in England and in Hungary, are at risk. On the other hand, the crisis has publicised the unsavoury practices of the intensive poultry industry: dark sheds, with as many as 7,000 birds in them, jostling on soiled straw bedding; imported meat, "processed" in Britain and labelled as "British"; products that are high in water, additives, and undesirable fats.

These are the normally suppressed corollaries of policies to provide cheap food. One might name many others, among them unhealthy children, an erosion of cooking skills and - because food has been reduced to quickly prepared fuel - the loss of mealtimes as family gatherings. There is good evidence for another: the spread of dangerous diseases.

We foodies like to argue that, while Turkey Dinosaurs and the like may be cheap, food from less intensive operations is not as expensive as you might think. In her excellent book The New English Kitchen (Fourth Estate), Rose Prince suggests that you can stretch a £14, 2.5kg, free-range or organic chicken over five meals - 16 helpings at 87 pence each. My family may be a little greedier than hers; nevertheless, I try to make the chickens I buy go a long way. But I have to admit that it involves quite a lot of work.

Meal one. I take the chicken out of the fridge a few hours before it is due to be cooked. I remove the giblets - reserving the liver - and make a stock with them. (The liver is destined to become pâté.) Butter is spread liberally over the chicken, which is then seasoned and put into the oven at a high heat. I turn down the oven after half an hour. Meanwhile the potatoes are peeled, cut up and parboiled and carrots peeled and chopped.

I take the chicken out of the oven, remove it from the tin, and make gravy with the juices and the stock. The potatoes go into the oven to roast at a high heat. I cook the carrots. I carve the bird.

That is a simplified description of the simplest roast dinner imaginable. If I detailed every process involved, I might go on for pages. After dinner the remaining meat is stripped from the bones. The bones will make stock. The meat might make a stew or a hash. Then there is the washing-up: crockery, cutlery and glasses; two roasting tins; pans for pâté, stock, potatoes, carrots and gravy.

I enjoy cooking, so I do not mind doing all this. But I am not surprised that there are people who do not share my enthusiasm and I do not think that I should patronise them for reaching for the Golden Drummers.

Nicholas Clee, the NS food columnist, is the author of Don’t Sweat the Aubergine: What Works in the Kitchen and Why (Short Books). He is a former editor of The Bookseller, and writes about books for papers including the Times, Guardian, and Times Literary Supplement.