Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Do Your Bit for the Class Struggle - Eat Game

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Do Your Bit for the Class Struggle - Eat Game

Article excerpt

It took a trip to Iceland for me to sense the sea change in British culinary culture. On the hunt for Chipsticks (the freezer chain is, oddly enough, one of the few places that still stocks this indescribably delicious corn-based snack), bigger quarry caught my eye: a "Luxury Pheasant Wellington" nesting among the Mini Kievs.

To me, this bird, so beloved of the landed gentry, seemed out of place in a value-conscious London supermarket. Game is the ideal example of what the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik calls the inextricable link between diet and politics. In France, shooting for sport seems a more egalitarian activity, with most communes boasting a club de chasse for outings to the local woods.

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The difference is, as ever, historical. Although the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy enjoyed drive hunts on a grand scale--what the historian Emma Griffin has described as "a comprehensive slaughter of wildlife"--game was also a vital source of food for those who could afford little else.

The conquering Normans, keen hunters in their homeland, were quick to claim all game within the English royal forests as the property of the king. "Men of the best sort and condition," as Elizabeth I put it, have assumed it as their birthright ever since. No wonder, then, that during the civil war these wooded aristocratic playgrounds were stormed by the aggrieved masses. "A fine meal of venison on the plates of the poor signified the world turned upside down," Griffin observes.

But, after the Restoration, revenge was swift and cruel. The notorious Game Act of 1671 has been condemned by historians as "a classic example of class selfishness". Only the generously landed were permitted to hunt.

Furthermore, to discourage poaching, the sale of game was made illegal, a prohibition that kept venison, partridge, pheasant and their ilk off the national menu for over 150 years--for law-abiding folks, at least. …

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