We are the second largest poultry exporters in Europe
Someone somewhere has got to show that the great British turkey is safe to eat!
Don’t be chicken – Britain needs you to eat bootiful turkey today
As soon as I arrived at work this morning I told the troops their duty. This is it, I said. The Russians have banned our turkey. The pathetic Japanese have slapped an embargo on any poultry emanating from this country. South Korea, Hong Kong and South Africa are all equally chicken about our chicken.
We are the second largest poultry exporters in Europe, I reminded them, with a £300 million business at stake. Here we are, in the cockpit of the nation, and the people expect us to show a lead. It is a time for greatness, a time for calm, a time for reassurance – and we are going to show all three.
I reached for my wallet and fished out twenty. “Frances,” I said, “go to the supermarket and buy as many slices of Bernard Matthews as you can find. Someone somewhere has got to show that the great British turkey is safe to eat! And that someone is going to be us.”
In no time she was back, laden with an extraordinary assortment of meat and meat-related produce. As we beheld the bewildering versatility of Mr Matthews’s fowls, I felt a spasm of rage that the people of South Korea – where they eat poodles, for heaven’s sake – should turn their noses up at the favourites of the British people.
We had Bernard Matthews wafer thin turkey ham, 95 per cent fat free. We had a perfectly cylindrical Turkey Breast Roast, serving three or four. Mr Matthews’s chefs had miraculously added water, potato and rice starch (and about 20 nourishing chemicals) to what the front of the packet said was “100 per cent breast meat”. We had delicious golden turkey escalopes, containing as much as 38 per cent turkey.
Look at that, I said: three oven-glove sized crispy escalopes, and all for £1.99. In fact, it all looked so good I didn’t know where to begin.
Here, I said, peeling back the lid of some Premium Sage and Onion turkey breast. A rich aroma filled the room. Come on now, I said, as they shrank back, who is going to be first?
“I’m not eating it unless you eat it,” said one. Eh? I said. You don’t understand. I’m John Selwyn Gummer, and you are Cordelia. You eat the hamburger, or in this case the slice of sage and onion turkey blend. I merely offer it to you. Or, I said, would you prefer a Bernard Matthews Turkey Dinosaur?
I unpeeled another packet. This one contained a mixture of turkey skin, pea starch, milk, potassium chloride, sodium nitrite and assorted other life-giving ingredients, boiled up and turned into a sliced roll complete with a beautiful picture of a dinosaur. Look! I held up the Dinosaur, showing how it ran all the way through, like a stick of rock.
No, no, they said. You’ve got to do it first. OK, I said, no problem.
It was a time for leadership. When the news bulletins are full of pictures of men in white space suits slaughtering thousands of birds; when everyone is panicking about the H5N1 strain of bird flu; when poor Bernard Matthews and his colleagues are beside themselves with worry about the threat to the UK’s £3.4 billion poultry industry, it was time to eat turkey.
I took out that slice of sage and onion 98 per cent fat free, I folded it politely, and I chomped for Britain. Flavour flooded my mouth. It was little short of heavenly, ambrosial, I told my friends; and I suggest that we all do the same.
Let’s say snooks to the Koreans and the Russians, and let’s get stuck into British turkey; and I say this because I remember writing exactly the same – 11 years ago – about British beef. I was right then and I am right now.
Do you remember that whole disgraceful BSE business, at the sad fag-end of the Major government?
Do you remember the way those unscrupulous lentil-munching Labour MPs whipped up public hysteria over British beef?
Thousands of blameless British cattle farmers had their livelihoods destroyed. Their continental rivals conspired with their EU governments to impose an outrageous and unjustified ban on British beef, and which the French have only just got round to lifting.
The British taxpayer coughed up £5 billion for the whole shambles – and all because we were told that British beef could give you mad cow disease.
Do you remember that government scientist who went around predicting that there would be hospices on every street corner, full of victims of nvCreutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and that the entire population was going to be punished for its addiction to hamburgers by being sent slowly and humiliatingly insane? What ever happened to him?
I in no way mean to minimise the suffering of those few people who have contracted nvCJD, but the panic was ludicrous in proportion to the risk; and having looked at this bird flu business, I reckon we are in danger of stampeding over exactly the same cliff.
As far as I can see, you would need to enter into a civil partnership with one of Bernard Matthews’ turkeys, and then perform prolonged mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the startled bird, in order to contract the new type of avian flu. You might get bird flu if you ate ground-up turkey droppings on your cornflakes for a week, or there again you might not.
And even then we still have no evidence that the disease can be transmitted from one human being to another, in the way of other flu epidemics.
I tell you what is driving this story: it’s a bourgeois horror of processed meat of the kind that Bernard Matthews produces so cheaply and so deliciously.
It’s all about people’s sense of guilt at the ease of their lives, and the cheapness of supermarket food. It’s a Marie Antoinette faddishness about farming, a belief that it should all be so much more natural.
I say phooey. OK, so Bernard Matthews mixes milk and turkey skin. Is that any odder than a restaurant offering black pudding and marmalade fritter?
It’s time for Blair to follow our lead, eat a slice of patriotic turkey and tell the Russians where to get off. Anyone failing to do so is a snob, a sissy and a scaredy-cat.