Our media analyst Caroline Roddis bravely takes a peek into a budget supermarket’s Christmas food offerings and returns surprisingly impressed.
Wasn’t it lovely to see James Martin ambling around the Game Fair back in July? The chef spent most of his time cooking in the swanky VIP part of the event, and every now and then I’d catch sight of him bustling down an aisle or having a cheeky browse on a stand. It’s a testament to his place in the nation’s hearts that it felt like catching a glimpse of an old friend rather than spotting someone famous. Though if James Martin were actually an old friend, I suspect I’d be very happily, very definitely obese by now.
Anyone who gets involved in the Game Fair is already firmly in the good egg basket, but after watching his recent TV series I’ve decided James Martin is in a very special basket of really exceptional, probably goose and perhaps golden eggs.
The show, James Martin’s Highlands to Islands, is a bit like a staycation version of his previous drive-around-and-cook series, and is delightful. What’s especially delightful for the shooting community is that the Yorkshire episode features Martin and fellow chef Brian Turner visiting a venue for outdoor pursuits.
While Brian Turner has a somewhat reluctant go at off-roading—worth watching the episode for alone—Martin takes up an activity closer to home. “I turn my hand to another great outdoor sport, clay pigeon shooting… and I love it,” he says, while bashing clays with gusto.
It’s only a 30-second segment in a cooking programme, but it’s wonderful in its normality. It’s clear both from the footage and the voiceover that he is genuinely enjoying himself and there’s not a whiff of apology nor any sense of the activity being anything out of the ordinary.
We all know what a struggle it is to get high-profile figures to be open about enjoying any kind of shooting, and to have such a high-profile and beloved figure casually doing so on a mainstream television programme was joyous. There was even a quite sexy slow-mo shot of spent cartridges being ejected from the barrels—and who would have thought it would be possible to say that about a mainstream programme broadcast on terrestrial television at 8pm?
Perhaps James Martin has had it right all along, and the way to the nation’s hearts really is through their stomachs. That seems to be what Aldi is betting on this Christmas: as an article in the Sun reports, the “stand out piece of Aldi’s offering this year could be a good choice if you’re wanting to impress guests. Garnished partridge, four pheasant breasts and two rolls of pork and cranberry stuffing pieces are included in the box. The entire game box is sourced from British estates.”
The Sun reporting that game is a good way to impress guests is perhaps a little unexpected, and certainly a testament to the ongoing role of Aldi/Lidl in bringing what might have been perceived as ‘premium’ foods to a wider audience. Of course, praising the meat is by no means a guarantee that the paper will take a less inflammatory approach to reporting on how the meat is brought to the table, but it nevertheless feels like a foot in the door.
I did some digging into the Aldi offering, partly because there’s something oddly indulgent about looking at Christmas food during the summer, and partly because I was excited that something called a ‘game box’ might contain wild boar rather than pork.
What I found, aside from further proof that the laws of physics are at risk of being fundamentally broken if every Christmas food item doesn’t contain some part of an intensively reared pig, was that the game box is the tip of Aldi’s meaty iceberg.
Not only is 2021 the first year that partridges have been seen in Aldi—and I bet they put their shopping in Waitrose bags like everyone else—but according to The Grocer the budget-friendly supermarket is “upping its game offer this year. Other new game additions include stags in quilts (a venison version of pigs in blankets) and a British venison joint.”
Aldi isn’t the only supermarket to be highlighting game as part of the Christmas table, with Waitrose also set to offer “a bone-in venison shoulder slow-cooked for 10 hours to intensify its flavour”, according to Waitrose’s chefs. It comes with a redcurrant and juniper jus in a bid to create a standout Christmas dinner table centrepiece.”
Unlike with Aldi there’s no mention of the venison here being from the UK, but I’ll slip that worry under the tree for another day.
By this point you’re probably either a) quite peckish or b) wondering why the hell I’m banging on about Christmas food when all the stress of that season is still safely in front of us.
The reason is that I’m quietly hopeful about what is to come, which isn’t indigestion—or at least, not only indigestion—but rather the endless Christmas food review articles that usually appear in most newspapers, a fair few lifestyle magazines and everywhere you look on the internet.
I can’t see it being any different this year, because no matter what the Covid situation, it is an(other) immutable law of physics that journalists are irresistibly drawn to free food.
Here, then, is a real chance for game meat to be front and centre of the story in a way that might gently and irresistibly introduce its benefits to wide audiences of those who may not have tried it before. It’s certainly a soft and fluffy approach to bringing newcomers in, but pointing out the pleasures of game at a time when people want to indulge and celebrate may well have more success than—as many have in the past—pointing out the problems inherent in the production of some other meats, an argument to which, while true, many seem deaf.
Take Frederick Forsyth’s recent opinion piece in the Daily Express. While making the case that game birds live and die in much better conditions than farmed birds, stated: “Virtually everything in Nature dies in pain. Most victim animals and birds die being chewed or torn to pieces in the teeth or claws of the meat-eater that caught them. The process of hunt, catch, kill, eat, die in agony never ends.”
He is, as we all know, absolutely spot on, and his piece contains nothing controversial to anyone who has ever given more than a moment’s thought to the concept of eating meat to sustain our own life.
Yet, especially at a time when the nation is exhausted from constantly thinking about death, the simple promise that a game dish might bring happiness may be more effective than emphasising that for a chicken “at the human equivalent of your mid-teens you are plucked from the litter where you have spent your short life, decapitated, plucked, processed and turned into nuggets to be eaten out of a cardboard bucket during Coronation Street.”
After all, it will be Christmas—the time for joy, celebrating life and consuming as much good food as humanly possible. Unless James Martin fancies having the nation round to his for lunch, this seems like the next best thing.
‘Shooting In The Media’, is an opinion article in which journalist Caroline Roddis explores topical issues.