Well our Hugh of the silly surname Fearnly-Whittingstall has another TV series on Channel 4 and the first episode aired the other night.
I’ve the greatest of respect for Mr FW, his campaign about the terrible way the vast majority of our table chickens are produced has had a huge effect on the British consumer. Free range chickens now represent about 10% of sales – double that before his program.
I’d contend that broiler chickens brought up in low density housing with interest added to their surroundings are a vast improvement on high density housed birds anyway but cost does, like it or not, come into the equation. With different standards available, people become a bit befuddled and keeping it simple – free range or broiler – does make the choice understandable.
This new series seems to have picked up on a format he used in the chicken campaign. Take a group of people who know next to nothing and get them started. This time it’s an urban smallholding.
He said it was easy to get his council to rent them 1.5 acres of derelict land to use, but I have to wonder if the ordinary person would get as positive a response as a television researcher’s approach. Still, he’s at least set a precedent to quote at the council.
Of course, their first action was to build raised beds. I don’t know why every vegetable growing programme now seems to suggest this is the only way to grow, There’s no question that raised beds have there benefits and they are easy to maintain if only because of the psychology. One bed at a time when the weeds grow is easier to approach than the sinking feeling when you look at a large area. However, to me it’s daft growing many crops in raised beds. Potatoes, sweetcorn, broad beans to take a few examples will do better or perfectly well in normal soil.
The one aspect he didn’t mention about the livestock that I think is perhaps most important, was security.
Keeping chickens or any livestock on wasteland in an urban environment could be asking for trouble. If the local youths decide it might be fun to let them loose or worse, then they will have problems. I’ve heard of a chicken house on an allotment being set fire to, with the birds inside. Not funny.
The other major part of his programme was devoted to meat. I totally agree with Hugh that using as much of the animal you have killed is a good thing, a sign of respect. So his use of the liver, hearts and lungs – offal – is something I was pleased to see. Incidentally, I read that the Inuits who have a near 100% carnivorous diet (you don’t grow many vegetables in the artic!) prize what we call offal as the best part of the animal and that the highest vitamin and mineral content lay in there.
What did strike me as silly, was using a vegetarian as his ‘normal person’. I’m sorry, but this was just daft. If she hates meat so much, why agree to be on TV (OK, 15 minutes of fame) In fact, on ecological grounds, promoting vegetarian lifestyles makes a lot if not more sense than eating meat. It takes a lot less energy to grow protein from beans that animals, for starters.
Hugh’s River Cottage Spring may have a few faults, but it’s still well worth watching. More Information on the Channel 4 Website