All my adult life I’ve had a passion for red meat. Indeed, there is nothing I enjoy more than a thick, juicy steak bien saignant, as the French say — good and bloody.
So it was that, for many years, Saturday night in the Utley household was steak night, my weekly treat to reward me for bringing home the bacon, as it were.
That was until around the time of my semi-retirement in 2018, when Mrs U broke it to me gently that she wasn’t, actually, all that keen on steak herself.
Although this was a savage blow to me, I can’t pretend it came as a complete surprise. After all, she had always preferred her steak bien cuit — well done — which seemed to me to ruin the point of it.
Anyway, ever since then I’ve been enough of a gentleman (all right, enough of a coward, terrified of Mrs U’s displeasure) to recognise what is required of me. So when it’s my turn to do the shopping these days, I never buy steak.
All my adult life I’ve had a passion for red meat. Indeed, there is nothing I enjoy more than a thick, juicy steak bien saignant, as the French say — good and bloody
Bless her heart, though, she still buys and cooks it once in a while, just to please me. But she eats the tiny piece she prepares for herself with such an insufferable air of saintly martyrdom that I sometimes wish she’d feed us something else instead.
Ah well, I count myself fortunate that we still have our Sunday roasts — ringing the changes between pork, chicken and even occasionally beef. But for how much longer?
I have to say that it chilled my blood when one of our sons gave her a vegetarian cookbook for Christmas, apparently at her own request.
It worries me, too, that at lunchtime throughout lockdown, she has chosen to eat bread and hummus or Sainsbury’s tomato and red pepper soup, while I’ve tucked into my ham sandwiches and pork pies.
Is the writing on the wall for me? Will I be doomed to spend however much time is left to me munching miserably on carrots and lettuce leaves, veggie burgers and soya-bean bangers?
What is quite clear is that the tide of history is turning against us carnivores. Vegetarian cookbooks are flying off the shelves.
Every supermarket in the land now sells special veggie ranges — and we meat-eaters are blamed for all manner of evil, from animal cruelty to flirting with heart disease and destroying the planet.
(Animals reared for food, apparently, emit countless tons of greenhouse gases from their backsides, while zillions of acres of rainforest have to be cleared every year to provide them with grazing land.)
At lunchtime throughout lockdown I’ve tucked into my ham sandwiches and pork pies
Indeed, just this minute as I write, an umpteenth email has popped into my inbox from a public relations company, informing me of the benefits to be gained from forsaking all animal products — not just meat but fish, eggs, butter, milk and proper cheese as well.
‘Hi there,’ gushes Henrietta Talbot of Spider PR. ‘I’m getting in touch with NEW research from Merchant Gourmet showing that eating plant-based meals saves 78 per cent carbon emissions on average in comparison to their meat alternatives . . .
‘The research also shows that 36 per cent would consider taking part in Veganuary, with health (68 per cent) and environment (54 per cent) as the two main factors motivating respondents.’
And there is another benefit, too, she says. ‘Going vegan could also save you THOUSANDS on your yearly shopping bill, with plant-based meals costing a staggering 40 per cent less than those that contain meat, fish and dairy.’
More from Tom Utley for the Daily Mail...
Would I like, Henrietta wonders, to try some Merchant Gourmet samples?
Frankly, dear Ms Talbot, I can’t think of many things I’d like less. But please, whatever you do, don’t pass on the offer to my wife!
This week, we saw yet another straw in the wind when a vegan restaurant became the first of its kind in France to win a star from the gourmet’s bible, the Michelin Guide.
Remarkably, the restaurant in question — ONA (which stands for Origine Non-Animale) — is in Ares, near Bordeaux, which is perhaps the most carnivorous and seafood-relishing region in a country never noted for its respect for the finer feelings of animals.
The South-West of France, after all, is widely regarded as the home of the world’s best foie gras — that supreme delicacy, made by force-feeding ducks or geese to distend their livers — which even I avoid, on account of the cruelty said to be involved in its production (and, OK, partly also because it’s so pricey).
The fact is that eating meat of any sort is going out of fashion at a quite astonishing rate.
Born in 1953, I’m quite old enough to remember when vegetarians — never mind vegans — were seen as wildly cranky, bohemian types who probably went to Stonehenge on Midsummer’s Day to watch the sunrise and pray to pagan gods.
Though it was a mercifully rare occurrence, it was a real pain when someone we’d asked to dinner tipped us off that she didn’t eat meat. This would mean preparing at least one dish especially for her — usually ratatouille, stuffed mushrooms or something equally bothersome (of which vegetarians, I imagine, must have grown heartily sick).
Even worse was when the guest arrived without warning us in advance of her vegetarianism, then spent the evening pushing a desultory brussels sprout around her plate, pretending to be having a lovely time.
Will I be doomed to spend however much time is left to me munching miserably on carrots and lettuce leaves, veggie burgers and soya-bean bangers?
But in the 21st century, all that is changing fast. These days (I’m thinking of that distant time before the lockdown, when we were still allowed to entertain friends) it is becoming almost as likely as not that at least one guest at any middle-class dinner party will prefer not to eat meat.
How much longer, I wonder, before my love of rare steak becomes as unfashionable — and as generally reviled by the bien pensants — as some of my other neanderthal tastes and views?
For example, I still believe that the British Empire wasn’t all bad; that sex is a question of biological fact, not personal choice; that Raphael was a much better artist than Francis Bacon; and that Brexit was, by and large, a good thing.
All of which brings me to abortion. Please don’t groan, because I’m about to argue against myself. And please don’t say, as my critics often do, that I have no right to an opinion on the matter, since I am a man.
As regular readers will be painfully aware, this is the subject about which I feel more strongly than any other. It is also a preoccupation that I share with Mrs U, who (full disclosure) works for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
Yes, I know that unwanted pregnancies can cause terrible grief and not just inconvenience. But it has always struck me that the onus is entirely on people who regard abortion as morally acceptable to explain why they think unborn foetuses are not human lives. By any reading of science, surely, that is just what they are.
How do they convince themselves that the creature growing in the womb, with all the DNA of a human being, becomes truly human only by some mystical process when it passes through the birth canal?
Don’t tell me it has anything to do with ‘viability’. That’s just sophistry. I’m hardly viable myself, in that I wouldn’t fancy my chances of survival if others didn’t provide me with food and drink.
As for my 98-year-old mother-in-law, she wouldn’t last a day without support from those who love her and care for her. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to kill her, surely?
My point is that, just as it’s up to pro-abortionists to explain why they think it’s all right to kill foetuses I regard as human, the onus is surely on us carnivores to show why we believe it’s all right to kill cattle, just because we happen to love juicy steaks.
Indeed, the more we learn about the astonishing similarities between animals and human beings, the harder I find it to justify eating meat. Though it grieves me deeply to say it, vegetarians and vegans may have a good point.
Mind you, I’m far too fond of my pleasures to turn vegan myself. But I wish somebody would furnish me with a respectable reason for enjoying my steak without guilt.