Chicken tonight

7 January 2008

I know toff-bashing is a tad easy, but after watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme tonight someone needs to call him out on the ridiculous soapbox he has put himself upon. Hugh’s Chicken Run (on Channel 4 tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday, God help us) is his attempt to educate Britain as the intensively-reared origins of its favourite meat, chicken. This is not a nice thing – most chickens farmed for meat are crammed into barns, bred to grow as quickly as possible and risk being ridden with disease. Nor is knowledge of it anything new – Felicity Lawrence’s Not on the Label covers the brutality and nastiness of factory chicken farming in far better detail than this television programme has so far.

In this programme, Fearnley-Whittingstall (whose name is so difficult to type I’ll refer to him as HFW from now on) is clearly aiming to emulate Jamie Oliver’s successes (of a sort) with Jamie’s Kitchen and Jamie’s School Dinners. But the differences start to become apparent quite quickly. Jamie Oliver is hardly the most popular figure in the UK, with his Mockney accent and do-gooder attitude. Yet there was still a streak of authenticity about Jamie Oliver’s efforts – he used his own money to help back the restaurant project in Jamie’s Kitchen, and both confronted those in power while sympathising on the front line in Jamie’s School Dinners.

There’s none of this present in Hugh’s Chicken Run – where, with neither the guile nor the skill as an investigative reporter to investigate existing farms and farmers (and besides, it’s been done before by people far less famous), he sets up his own. Or rather, two – one a free range farm of well-kept happy chickens, and the other a bog standard pile-em-high and kill-em-cheap intensive farm. The first proves rather labour intensive, so HFW recruits a group of “volunteers”, to whom he doles out chickens for them to all do the dirty work while he gets top quality free range birds to sell at the end, in some sort of modern-day reality television version of feudal labour.

The second farm is much more terrifying – it’s not just a mock chicken factory farm – this is the real thing. HFW seems happily willing to needlessly imprison, force feed, torture and then slaughter thousand of chickens, all for raising awareness of an issue already in the public domain. All too happy to embrace the system he has set out to knock down, it’s a strange and brutal kind of hypocrisy, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall closely tending to his very own chicken Auschwitz. And to what end is this for? Channel 4 explain…

His plan is that for one week more than 50% of chicken bought and consumed in Axminster is free range. That includes curry houses and burger bars, ready made sandwiches and pub lunches. At the moment, less than 5% of the chicken sold in the UK is free range so it’s a major undertaking.

HFW’s focus is different from Jamie Oliver’s – quality and animal welfare – a dangerous road to go down at the best of times with an often unsympathetic public (and he as a local businessman who sells organic food). Jamie Oliver did his best to work with the people he tries to convince – dinner ladies, school administrators and parents – mindful of the constraints they’re under and working on how to keep costs down while working to make healthier food. But there’s none of this so far, apart from a brief attempt mid-show to show his humanity, swanning into a local work canteen, cooking a meal and then buggering off with no mention of the extra cost. With this hectoring and nannying, all the while quietly dispensing death and misery in his own back yard, HFW really shows himself up as nothing more than a pompous hypocrite.

And yet people still think Jamie Oliver is the bigger wanker. Why? Can anyone explain?


12 Responses

Yep, while I can’t fault his motives, his methods were deeply suspect. I felt think trying to appeal to people moral sensibilities over cheap chicken is a none starter.

We were 25 minutes into the show before he mentioned that free range chickens simply taste far better than intensively reared chickens. That’s the USP he should be hammering home (unfortunately).

Being seen as a wanker is perfectly compatible with being held in high public affection and esteem. (All performers are wankers, let’s face it.) HFW hasn’t risen to the level of wanker & is a mere tosser. Perhaps.

“And yet people still think Jamie Oliver is the bigger wanker. Why? Can anyone explain?”

Because of his fat tongue, his early 90′s catchphrases, and his affection for Toploader.

What got me was HFW moaning that he had SOOO much to do in so little time: managing the Medway Estate chicken run, visiting Axminster Power Tools, setting up his own intensive farm all within the same few days. Why?! It’s his fecking program! It’s his own fault then isn’t it. He could have set up the Medway Estate project anytime. I guess it just makes better telly.

I never watched any of his other shows. I’m glad. I think he annoys me.

Who are these people? When I was in the circus we watched Graham Kerr and Fanny Cradock. Perhaps Jimmy Oliver is the bigger wanker because he sticks his fingers up the hen’s egg duct.

Flicktokick

Although I’m not one to disagree with a crowd. FFS get a grip you lot.

So ‘Not on the Label’ has covered this and in more depth, well that’s ok then, no need for anyone else to do it. And for that matter let’s have no more news stories about natural disasters or starving Africans, they’ve been done to death. And don’t get me started on demonstrations against the war, c’mon people get orignal there’s plenty of other issues you haven’t marched about.

Perhaps it might have occurred to you that many people haven’t read ‘Not on the Label’ certainly it seems that the good people of Millwey Rise hadn’t.

The point is – and yes its also about making a a few hours of entertaining(?) programme – is that this is entirely in keeping with HFW’s track record in terms of Animal husbandry, organic farming etc. He isn’t an investigative reporter, he’s a bloke that picks berries and sorrel from hedegrows, shoots a wild boar and cooks them.

Oh and the free-range farm experiment doesn’t have the Millwey residents looking after it, they are a side issue, given their own chickens to look after to a) make them think about the plight of the broiler birds and b) provide a bit of televisiual light relief and a contrast to both the intensive farming methods and even the free-range end of chicken production. Obviously it’s the Northern Irish bloke that does all the hard work, while HFW talks to various receptionists on the phone

HFW may well be a wanker or a tosser; the programme may or may not be a pile of shite; but missing the point, not noticing fairly major details and basing your crtitique on the fact that a subject has been covered before in a different medium and you are aware of it so therefore everyone else must be are not the best foundations for a sound and convincing argument.

Wanker Fan

I thought HFW had a few good points. Maybe not delivered in the best way but then 90% of the population are morons and it is these morons that he must reach. Chickens should be reared in a way that is at least fairly stress free. Things that take their time to grow and are generally quite happy taste better and the people who earn their living from them are happier. So it costs a few quid more, so what?. Most of us can afford it so maybe download a few less ringtones a year, buy a few less pairs of designer shoes or don?t buy so much from the supermarket you have to throw half of it away a week later when its out of date.

If food cost more would we eat less. Would be become thinner?

God, I’m watching the third part right now, and it’s cringe-inducing, virtually unwatchable stuff. People keep telling him that price is the most important factor, and he just doesn’t listen to them. At all. Instead, he either resorts to patronising and hectoring them to their face, or more usually, rolls his eyes in an aside to camera. It’s not that his position is wrong – but my goodness, his delivery of it is just so horribly counterproductive, blinkered and insulting.

To his credit, he has at least allowed the final show to have a fair amount of screen time devoted to people saying what an enormous cock they think he is.

Forager

It’s amazing what people will project onto someone famous. Isn’t it good that he believes passionately in something and is willing to do something about it?

As for his methods, it was only because he wasn’t granted access to ANY intensive chicken farms (a fact that speaks volumes) that he had to recreate the conditions in order to show us.

So some people say that, for them, price is the most important factor. Why should he have to agree? The stats show that those who are supposedly too hard up to buy free-range chicken are often families who need assistance in managing their finances better. Generally they buy too little fresh fruit and veg (some of the cheapest foods around) and too much processed food. Fast food and takeaways form a greater part of their diet. The issue isn’t price. It is education.

What “stats” would those be, out of interest? You mean like the huge survey recently undertaken by the Food Standards Agency, which showed that the poorest families don’t actually make significantly less healthy food choices than the rest of the population?

Dying thread, perhaps, but I thought the interesting thing about this show was that a lot of people I know in mid-to-high-income groups who are only vaguely bothered about animal welfare, don’t currently buy organic/happy meat, and wouldn’t ever watch a Panorama expose of chicken farms or read a think-tank report on sustainable farming, made an effort to watch it (I didn’t, so I’m not going to say anything about the content). And that’s the point of HFW.

Also, I’m sceptical of how representative the FSA survey is: “80% said they shopped mainly at a large supermarket” [which would, indeed, mean that they had easy access to healthy-enough cheap-enough food] rings alarm bells if we’re talking about the poorest 1/6th of the population. Another thing for the “to investigate one day maybe” pile…

James H

I’ve only seen the 1st part so far (other 2 on my 30gb to be watched pile!) and while I agree this has been done before, and probably done better by others the fact is as a country we do eat a hell of a lot of Intensively farmed chikens and eggs (along with all the other crap we all eat, myself included).
My wife, who would never watch Panorama or Cutting Edge or a standard current Affairs type program, watched it (I didn’t even have to force her!) and within 5 minutes of the start said “You don’t buy these chickens do you?” (Yes I do all the shopping, modern man and all that), to which I replied that yeah most of the time I did. The result is that due to this program my shopping bill will go up by a couple of quid (or her wine budget will be reduced) as I now have to only buy free range chickens.
The point I’m long windedly trying to make is that regardless of how the program was made and how accurate it was, in my household at least, it has worked. Although I think I’m going to have to stop her watching the rest of the season of programs else I’m going to have to do more overtime to pay for the extra organic/free range food!

MickBelfast

The reason why Jamie is a bigger wanker is because he tries to have it both ways. He complains about factory farming but fronts campaigns for Sainsburys which is one of the retailers whose selling practices have given rise to the factory farming system.
A couple of years ago he was slated for promoting Sainsburys factory-farmed salmon, produced in dreadful conditions in Scotland. He’s a hypocrite – or as Clarissa Dickson Wright has referred to him a “culinary whore”.
The whole chicken run thing is more about salving the consciousness of people who cannot control their own greed and abstain from eating flesh altogether. Indeed the whole “happy meat” movement is more about keeping the consumer guilt free than the poor beasts’ welfare.