In the last few days BBC Three have been screening the third series of the television show Kill it, Cook it, Eat it, which will be available on BBC iPlayer for the next few days. I’ve only just discovered this programme and so hadn’t seen the previous two series which apparently were different in that they had built a kind of restaurant/studio around a real working abattoir. Series three was based at the Balavil Estate in Scotland and each episode saw a different group of nine participants engage in the killing of game, prepare the carcass and butcher the meat before a professional chef cooked it for them for dinner.
I thought this was a fascinating and even-handed exploration of the issues of meat production and hunting. The participants were drawn from many walks of life and not everyone was a meat-eater keen on the slaughter of animals for food as the participants included vegetarians, vegans and animal rights campaigners to offer the other side’s viewpoint. In fact virtually all the participants had never held a gun before let alone used one to kill and so it was likely that it might turn some of the meat eaters off the idea of eating meat when faced with the reality of how it gets to the table for consumption.
Kill it, Cook it, Eat it is a good companion piece to the Channel 4 shows hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gordon Ramsay which seek to inform the public about the realities of the meat industry and convince the public to choose free-range over the factory farmed meat in which animals are kept in awful conditions. I firmly believe that people should be making an informed choice when it comes to their consumption of meat, but don’t think that people should be made to feel guilty if they do make the choice to go for the cheaper factory farm produced meat.
However this series of Kill it, Cook it, Eat it was focusing on game meat with four different groups of participants hunting deer, duck, rabbit and finally grouse so there is the additional ethical questions about hunting. I’m completely in favour of the hunting of animals for food or population control as I see these as necessary activities but am opposed to hunting purely for sport.
I think that the rabbit episode had the most interesting mix of characters there was Tabitha a Ugandan lady that couldn’t understand British people’s attitudes to killing animals, Victoria the animal rights campaigner, Cathy who ran an Animal Rescue centre, Emma who was squeamish about meat but I don’t think was a vegetarian, vegetarian Francesca who looked like a WAG and thought she had a healthy diet even though she needed to take supplements due to anaemia and a nutritionist Helena who tried to argue with Francesca that it wasn’t natural to be taking multivitamins but it was to eat meat.
I think that Victoria the animal rights campaigner who as it turned out was a natural with the shotgun made a great point following her success with the clay targets that why is it necessary to take it to the next level and kill animals when you can get all the same fun and exhilaration from shooting the clay targets. I’d agree with her if rabbit shooting was purely for sport but it isn’t and most of the killed rabbits are ending up as food. However her position is somewhat supported by the events in the programme whereby following the lack of success with the gun the head gamekeeper decides that they will resort to using nets over the burrow entrances to catch the rabbits as they emerge to then have their necks broken. I think this is a more humane way of killing as unlike shooting there is no possibility of an injured rabbit escaping to die in pain and is actually something I have done myself.
I thought that Cathy the owner of an Animal Rescue centre was fantastic as she defied my expectations and had a far more informed and realistic attitude to animals than did the vegetarians. She was concerned about the welfare of the rabbits that they were intending to kill but was quite prepared to kill a rabbit with her bare hands and then skin and butcher it. Rabbits are not indigenous to Britain, they were introduced by the Normans, and are considered vermin when in the wild. I learned also that apparently landowners are actually legally obliged to kill the rabbits on their land in order to control numbers. This is a point that I think that Victoria conceded but she failed to come up with a viable alternative method of population control that didn’t involve killing the rabbits. The only other method we in Britain have tried is the awfully inhumane deliberate spread of the disease myxomatosis.
The fourth programme in the series was grouse shooting and this is the one that I think I have fallen on the side of opposing as there are I believe fundamental differences between this and the hunting of other game. In this group of participants there was a South African bloke that had hunted before and a Royal Marine. I think these two were placed in this group because the producers recognised the difficulty of Grouse shooting and believed them to be amongst the best marksmen of all the participants. Grouse shooting is considered the pinnacle of game shooting as it is very difficult to hit as it flies low to the ground and is very fast, because of this the estates can charge a premium for the privilege.
It seems to me that the primary basis of the grouse shoot for the estate is an economic one, of secondary importance is the tradition of the grouse season which starts with the Glorious Twelfth and of least importance is the notion of the grouse as a food item. But then again as most of the birds that are shot during the season are sold on to restaurants this is again an economic reason for the estate to have the shoot.
Proponents of grouse shooting make the argument that it is about conservation and maintenance of the landscape but they are maintaining an artificial ecosystem to encourage breeding pairs to live on the estate and reproduce to keep numbers up to sustain as much hunting as possible. This is not about population control as it is with the deer and the rabbits as the population would not necessarily be there or increase without that human intervention.
Also unlike the duck there was a mixed response to the taste of the grouse meat and though grouse apparently is in great demand by posh restaurants the chef at one interviewed in the show seemed to indicate that he thought it wasn’t worth the money he was charging for it. On the evidence of this TV show the justification of shooting for food doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as it is easier to shoot duck, which gives more meat and has a more popular taste.
Finally there is evidence that less ethical estates than Balavil, which is featured in Kill it, Cook it, Eat it are engaging in the illegal killing of raptors in order to protect their stock of grouse from these predators. Many other predators of the grouse such as foxes, crows and stoats are also killed to protect this game bird.
I believe therefore that the only argument in favour of the grouse shoot is the economic one and if the estate really cannot sustain itself without the great income that the grouse shoots bring in then I might be in favour of it but I’m yet to be convinced of that. Even then it is a difficult argument because it is apparently necessary to kill a number of animals that are predators in addition to the grouse. The killing of predator animals merely to support a practice of killing game animals it is not an activity I think I could support.
So in summation I thought Kill it, Cook it, Eat it was a fascinating thought-provoking television series that I learned things from and which reinforced my opinion that hunting for food is I believe a noble pursuit but hunting for sport is not. Stalking deer and hunting rabbits and ducks is something I’m okay with and could see myself doing, but grouse shooting is not something I could either engage in or support.