Posts Tagged ‘Chickens’

Chickens, Hugh And Tesco Too

January 27, 2009

hugh fearnley whittingstall, chickens, tesco

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall again, taking his annual break from being an irritating bastard so he can talk a bit of sense about chickens, remarkably abstaining from going over the top and self-righteous about it. It seems HFW is capable of making interesting TV, and this kind of  thing just about compensates for the scabies-like irritation of his usual guff.

River Cottage is a saccharine, utopian vision of farming, in which Hugh is  free to  till the land without the pressure of the industry  and overheads looming over his  shoulder as most normal farmers would experience. Instead he’s able to  drain his book-royalty fund to pay for all the technicalities, making it nauseating, patronising bollocks.

But his chicken campaign has some relevance and feels current, raising it above the River Cottage standard. In this latest instalment, HFW buys a single share for about 500 quid in order to be able to speak to major shareholders and try to convince them that the industry standard is to harsh on the bird, and that the much more humane, RSPCA backed Freedom Food standard should be the base level. And it’s hard to argue with him.

Last time round, he was rewarded with only a bloody nose when trying to change Tesco’s ways as the marketing bods at the top of the tree steadfastly refused to speak to him, so it followed that by buying a share he would get more of a say. Hard to know how much of what followed was pantomime contrivance, but it was all good fun.

One fact that shocked me, early on, (though it probably shouldn’t have) is that Friends of the Earth have shares in Tesco. Isn’t that a bit weird? Probably not. You just expect a charity to make ethical decisions when it comes to investing – but then you remember ethics don’t really come into economics.

Anyhow, the first move was explaining his case to some shareholders, City types, in pinstripe with public-school floppy hair. All were left unmoved. The deadly silence that followed HFW’s little speech spoke volumes on why this wouldn’t actually, physically make a difference and could only succeed as a point well made. The welfare of a chicken, pecked-half bald as it sits in its own shit is of very little interest to people who want to put some money somewhere and return a few weeks later to find it’s doubled. Chickens be damned when cash can be reaped. Eventually, one long haired suit-wearer saw the correllation between Tesco’s reputation and the improvement of standards, but the reputation card didn’t work last time round, so was unlikely to this time.

The high point, for me, was HFW’s attempts to speak to someone of importance from Tesco on camera. Instead, he was greeted by a Media Spokesperson, or Head of Talking On Telly as she was dubbed. This creature, both attractive and coldly empty, spoke in  wittering circles of sales guff. She repeatedly bleated that Tescos ‘lead the way’ on this topic – a term she had clearly been encouraged to use as it’s such blatantly contrived bullshit, she couldn’t have come up with it herself.

‘Lead the way’ means utterly nothing. Where is ‘the way’? How are they ‘leading’ towards it? Who are they leading? Where will they end up? Why not just say something quantatitive and substantial instead of talking unmitigated shit?

It got worse. One of my pet hates is food packaging and how, these days, it’s virtually impossible to work out where meat came from, what the terms mean and whether the food you’re buying has been fiddled with. Apparently, according to the Media Spokesperson, to have anything resembling a description of conditions, even something as basic as the two words ‘indoor-reared’, would be patronising to the consumer.  And if that doesn’t display contempt for the customer, I don’t know what does. You don’t need any more evidence to prove that Tesco aren’t in the least bit concerned by what their customers want (unless it involves undercutting their competitors).

Eventually HFW’s target of converting 75% of shareholder opinion (an impossible task, with the rules set by Tesco) failed, as was destined. But this was a point well made.

The sad thing is, the core customer-base of Tesco – those who may have been influenced into not buying the lower end offal – were probably put off this transmission by the very fact of Hugh’s presence, and will be purchasing two-for-a-fiver chickens as I type these very words…

Hugh’s Chicken Run

January 10, 2008

Hugh Fearnley-Shittingstool 

It’s only pertinent that I, Piqued, head up the fucking row – I mean debate – that has been brought to mine face by Hugh F Whitting-Wotsit over the past three evenings on Channel 4 (which, when I read, I hear it in my head as ‘ChA-NEALL fOOOR’ on account of this West Indian male announcer they employed back in the day. I digress) due to an ongoing discussion regarding a certain Mr. Bernard Matthews and his Chicken Kiev(s).

The premise is simple. Start two chicken farms, one a cuddly free range one, and the other a scene from a painting by Bosch/Breugal depicting hellish acts of (in this case, chicken) damnation – a battery shed.

From scratch the redoubtable Hugh FW cheerily goes about collating information/resources/experts in order to realise his dream of converting the straw-chewing bumpkins of Axminster to go free-range by demonstrating that shoving 50,000 birds into an area the size of a hankie isn’t a very nice thing to do (actually it’s 19 birds to a square metre) where they don’t have access to daylight to increase their growing time from chick to slaughter, which takes just over a month. Obviously the free range fellas are provided with their own five bedroom houses, top of the range Lexus, wide screen TV’s (three of) and a games room, with a full size snooker table and bar.

Hugh’s campaign got off to a bright start by recruiting some families who worked in the nearby allotments. After a brief period of doubt, he made them physically see the different ways of rearing chickens: the lot reclining on Chesterfields reading The Telegraph and other the poor sods pecking shit out of their dead mates’ arseholes in the dark. Apart from one fat cow called Hayley, all were converted tearfully on the spot.

But not all was well in the village. The locals (and really, this lot were a fucking good reason for never leaving London) barked and grunted paranoid abuse in the direction of Hugh and his campaign. Within hours, there were rumours that Hugh’s free range chickens cost ‘twenty pund’. The thick inbred cunts – sorry, did that come out loud? All this as Hugh tirelessly attempted to sign up shops to sell free-range produce. After a hilarious confrontation at the local Tesco (who up until this point had been totally uncooperative, as had the Co-operative, ironically) in which the manager thought Hugh had called him an arsehole, he began to make some progress.

Incidentally, in terms of the campaign having a long term and far-reaching sustainability, Sainsburys seemed to be by far and away the most prepared to assist Hugh’s Chicken Out campaign on a national level. We’ll see…

Overall, the programme was a success. This was due entirely to Hugh’s determination and enthusiasm for his campaign. He was obviously upset at the battery conditions he’d created in order to highlight his plight – on one occasion he was reduced to tears after having to dispatch yet another suffering creature from the intensively reared chicken shed and I noticed his language got all blue and rude due to his exasperation at the backward-thinking townsfolk and money-grabbing corporates as a symptom of his passion.

In all this, however, there was one major flaw, something that vegetarians understand, and for good reason. The bottom line, despite the way they were reared (though I maintain free-range rearing is paramount) is that all the creatures wound up being caught and knacked in the same way, carted off in cramped conditions, hung up upside down on a conveyor, stunned in electrified water and having their throats slit open by the sticker, all for the food industry. I do eat meat, I didn’t used to precisely because of the whole killing part and I am careful to make sure I eat free range/organic birds. But really, eating a free-range animal will always remain the lesser of two evils and no amount of campaigning will change that.

Oooh – look – Piqued just got all serious and deep. I’m off to KFC to recover.