Magazine article The Spectator

For the Love of Cod

Magazine article The Spectator

For the Love of Cod

Article excerpt

Can our celebrity chefs save the British fishing industry?

Years - actually decades - ago, a gentleman from the British civil service, interviewing me as a potential candidate for a job in the European Commission, explained that 'all the important decisions in Brussels are prepared by the chefs'. As he spoke, I had a vision of men in tall white hats stirring dishes on a large stove in the middle of the Berlaymont.

'Chefs?' I queried.

The man quickly explained that he meant the 'chefs de cabinet', the Commissioners' aides, who basically ran the show while the great men had long lunches at expensive Brussels restaurants. Still, this vision of the all-powerful chef was a vivid one and it came back to me when I read of the preparations being made for next week's Channel Four 'television chef' spectacular. Forget about poets being the 'unacknowledged legislators of the world'. Today it is the chefs who are coming out of the kitchen into the heat of political controversy.

Not any old chefs, mind you. I barely know one end of an egg from another, but I am quite aware that these are the big boys.

For most of next week, Channel Four is running programmes featuring some of the great 'celebrity chefs' of our time: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal. And they are coming together for a nakedly political objective.

Let me go back for a moment to Brussels, when I first arrived there in the early S eventies. The United Kingdom, on entering the then EEC, had just given up its right to control its own living marine resources. Official documents subsequently released make it clear just how cynical the trade-off between UK fish and UK entry was. Since then, as far as the management of our fish stocks is concerned, it has been downhill all the way. The first of the television programmes Channel Four is screening next week will be presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. According to the blurb, HFW is determined to raise awareness of diminishing fish stocks. 'Focusing on the three species most widely consumed in the UK - cod, salmon and tuna - Hugh leaves no stone unturned in his mission to understand what is happening to the British fishing industry. In the process he is horrified to learn that up to half of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead.'

I am sure that many of the civil servants who worked in the European Commission's Fisheries Directorate-General during my time and after were honourable and well intentioned men. …

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