Meat is the norm; not to eat it is to make a fuss
Henri obviously believed the availability of meat denoted the type of basic contentment and wellbeing that keeps a society nice and quiet. Unfortunately there are limits to what even meat consumption can achieve, and Henri was assassinated in 1610. Last week his head, severed from his body when his grave was ransacked during the French Revolution, was identified and authenticated by scientists using DNA tests. But he was right in his instinct that meat is emotional.It is a comfort food.
Meat is conservative – John Wayne believed in steak. Meat is traditional. Not just in the we-are-all-cavemen-at-bottom sense promoted by the people who stick to the so-called Stone Age diet for health reasons, but in the social sense. In Ireland eating meat is normal, it’s the ordinary thing to do. The instruction to “eat what you’re given” was emblazoned on our foreheads by hundreds of thousands of Irish mothers. They raised numberless ranks of unquestioning consumers, and for mostly good reasons, of which politeness and social acceptance were only two.
Not to eat meat is to set oneself apart somehow, to make a fuss, if not a show of yourself – all of which are taken to be signs of fancy-pants narcissism, and therefore strongly discouraged in Ireland.
In the 50 years of our most enormous social change meat eating has gone from being a sign of unusual prosperity to being a signifier of the common people; and, without getting all Jarvis Cocker about it, that’s probably a good thing. Meat is respectable.
The problem is that, as with alcohol, abstaining from it following an Irish convention, even for a couple of days out of the seven, is a pretty thankless task. Refusing alcohol in Ireland brings out an aggressive line of questioning which is amazing to witness even for those of us who still drink alcohol. Abstaining from meat is not encouraged, at any level: attractive alternatives are not provided. Meat is simply the norm.
Now we’re learning that the international meat trade is run on clandestine lines which are reminiscent of the tax arrangements of some of our more exotic politicians and bankers. Who would have thought our meat could be made that dirty?
It is a long way from the delicious, high-quality meat that this country produces. But of course that stuff is all exported to people who value it enough to pay for it.