Robbie Burns is often credited with writing the Selkirk Grace, though I have seen it claimed that its association with him and its name are down to the fact that he read it out at a dinner for the Duke of Selkirk, and that it was already a grace of long standing.

Whatever the explanation, and whoever wrote it, it represents a celebration of not going hungry, and taking a moment to reflect with gratitude on the good things in life. It is short, simple and moving:

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Nowadays, however, we live in very different times, as I noticed when visiting the Guardian’s website on 26th March and spotting a storyi under this headline:

UK supermarkets accused of ‘bombarding’ shoppers with cheap meat

I mentioned it in passing on Open Mic at the time, but I think that it deserves a little more attention. After all, where once – in a largely desperately poor society – meat-eating was a glorious but rare experience for many poor people, now we live in an increasingly poor society where meat-eating is not to be celebrated, but to be denigrated.

I can think of little more ridiculous than the idea that supermarkets should “stand accused” (with all the negative connotations associated with the use of such language) of making meat cheaply available to its customers, many of whom will be poor, struggling with rising energy bills, and profoundly grateful for protein being made available to them at affordable prices.

Who, apart from the Guardian, of course, is “accusing” supermarkets of this despiccable behaviour? (How dare they provide cheap food packed with protein to poor people? And in the middle of a “cost of living crisis”, too; the very effrontery of it!). Well, the article was apparently inspired by a report from Eating Better, “an umbrella group representing more than 60 organisations including WWF UK, Greenpeace, public health bodies, dietitians, the RSPCA and food charities”.

The Guardian article tells us:

The government-commissioned national food strategy, published last July, said Britons needed to reduce their intake of meat by 30% by 2032 in order to help combat the UK’s “plague of dietary ill-health” and the climate emergency.

Helpfully, a link was provided to the national food strategyii, so I decided to take a look. From the link, one has to download the report, but it’s worth doing, because it then becomes apparent that the opposition to meat-eating has precious little to do with health (it talks about reconstituted meat being bad for health, but that’s about it so far as I can see), and pretty much everything to do with greenhouse gas emissions. It is full of stuff like this:

The Government’s Climate Change Committee has said we must reduce the amount of meat we eat by 20–50% in order for the UK to reach net zero by 2050. In this strategy, we have set a goal of a 30% reduction over ten years. This is significant, and it won’t be easy to achieve.

And this:

Cutting back on methane is therefore one of the very few methods by which we could put a relatively sharp brake on climate change. This is why, in recent years, meat-eating has risen up the environmental agenda.

And this:

You can see, predictably, that vegetable proteins hug the left-hand side of the chart, meaning they are low in emissions, while meat and dairy extends much further towards the carbonheavy right.

And much more in similar vein.

Given the campaign by the Guardian and Eating Better to make meat more expensive, there is more than a little irony in the fact that the front page to the website hosting the national food strategy report is full of quotes from people praising it, including this, from Dame Louise Casey:

The pandemic has turned the divide between the rich and the poor into a gaping chasm. A terrible legacy of this time will be the exponential growth of food banks and hand-outs. Sadly the fact is that the less well off you are, the more likely you are to be prey to unhealthy food. There is a nutritional gap between rich and poor in this country, and it’s a slowly unfolding tragedy.

So, here we are in the early 21st century, surrounded by, indeed dominated by, climate puritans. I give you an updated Selkirk Grace, one fit for the times in which we live:

We can’t hae meat, we hae nae heat,

And they say they should be thankit,

But they hae meat, and they have heat,

And sod the folk that want it.

Endnotes

i https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/26/uk-supermarkets-accused-of-bombarding-shoppers-with-cheap-meat

ii https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/the-report/

4 Comments

  1. Great post, Mark.

    My thoughts on Food (and Famine.) In the West as in Asia for maybe 4000 years your typical family lived close to the breadline. In the west, grain provided more than 80% of the family diet., bread and porridge, and in hard times, thin gruel.

    Famine was a common experience across the globe. There were the Great Famines in India, 1022-1033-1952, that wiped out entire provinces, the 1064 French famine which killed 100,000 people, the Year without a Summer, as recently as the 1840’s when 65,000 people Westerners died.

    The advent of the steam engine in the Industrial Revolution ended famine in the West. The last European famine due to climate was in Finland in 1866. Technical ingenuity and science has enabled food production to keep pace with population.

    Until today when a group of elitest bureaucrats and leaders think they know better what is good for us. Lean times ahead if they prevail!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And yet the environmental cobsewuences of arable farming are coming under scrutiny now that supplies of fertiliser are under threat, due to the war in Ukraine. It seems that the use of fertiliser is poisoning the soil and watercourses and wreaking havoc on ecosystems.

    If we can’t have meat and can’t have arable crops, what will we be permitted to eat?

    The thing is that not all land is suitable for agriculture. One of the most effective ways to use it is to have it grazed by vegetarian animals such as sheep and cattle, or omnivores such as pigs, thereby converting CO2 emitting vegetation into meat

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t commented on the meat eating debate before, and I suspect that I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. Nevertheless, there are a few basic facts worth keeping in mind, as highlighted here:

    https://www.alltech.com/blog/3-myths-debunked-animal-agricultures-real-impact-environment

    No doubt, if Facebook were to suggest to a sceptic that they should read the above article, the BBC and Global Witness would start moaning on about ‘flying in the face of science and reality’. Sometimes it isn’t a grasp of science and reality that is wanting so much as a grasp of basic arithmetic. Needless to say, I won’t be taking numeracy lessons any time soon from a BBC journalist with a languages degree.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Is this the same Guardian that reported on supermarkets standing accused of selling cheap meat? Now in high dudgeon over high food prices:

    “‘Golden era’ of cheap food over as two in five Britons buy less to eat
    ONS survey reveals worsening effects of cost of living crisis, with food prices forecast to have risen by 9% in April”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/may/13/cost-of-living-golden-era-of-cheap-food-over

    “…Runaway prices were forcing people to make some “really horrible financial decisions”, said Sarah Coles, a senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. The number of people having to spend less on food was “alarming”, she added. “It’s no wonder that a third of us are so anxious.”

    Coles said the ONS survey showed “alarm bells ringing over food”. “The proportion buying less is growing, and while this will include some people who are giving up expensive treats or cutting down on waste, there’s a real risk that some are having to go hungry.”…”.

    The Guardian might at least have the good grace to concede that it criticised supermarkets selling cheap meat. There seems to me to be a substantial degree of hypocrisy in its reporting.

    Liked by 1 person

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