Meat and former veggies

I HAVE been invited to a wedding. The invitation presents me with a dilemma.I shall be there, happy to celebrate the splicing of two old friends. But what am I going to eat?On the reply card it asks: “How many vegetarian meals do you require?”A year ago the answer to that would have been easy.

I HAVE been invited to a wedding. The invitation presents me with a dilemma.

I shall be there, happy to celebrate the splicing of two old friends. But what am I going to eat?

On the reply card it asks: “How many vegetarian meals do you require?”

A year ago the answer to that would have been easy. In those days I still thought of myself as a vegetarian (though I ate fish).

These days I occasionally eat meat and, frankly, a nice steak or roast beef would be far preferable to the sort of mush often served up in the name of “vegetarian option”.

I would feel very hard done-by to watch those around me tucking into a slab of tender sirloin while I tackle yet another sloppy “vegetable bake”.

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I have eaten enough mushroom stroganoff to last a lifetime. (Why do caterers assume vegetarians have tiny appetites and no teeth?)

On the other hand, I'm fussy about my meat.

I don't want to eat pigs that have been reared in near-darkness in an overcrowded concrete barn.

Or chicken that has been bred and dosed to grow from egg to plate in 40 days, with massive breasts and deformed legs that cannot support its weight. (Broiler hens don't need legs, because they are packed so close together they can't fall over, let alone run around.)

Or, indeed, any fish that has cost a dolphin its life in a trawl net. (I've regretfully had to give up sea bass to avoid supporting that foul slaughter.)

So what should I write on that card?

Perhaps I should try to make my wishes clear in the bit where it asks: “Any specific dietary requirements?”

Perhaps I should write: “Will eat meat only from happy animals.”

Lamb should be OK. (Mutton would be better, but when can you get that nowadays?)

British beef is almost sure to be safe (though any beef product from the USA should be avoided by anyone with a conscience).

British pig meat has about a one-in-four chance of having been humanely reared. If it's local Suffolk pig, its chances are better.

As with being vegetarian, it's easier now than it was a few years ago to choose your food with care.

The labelling and popularity of “organic” and “free range” food is one of the few things we can thank the growth of supermarkets for.

(Incidentally, if you're not yet a convert to organic veg, here's a tip for you: organically-grown carrots are not only safer, they are worth a few extra pence for the taste alone.)

Being a veggie was relatively straightforward, give or take a few arguments about fish and eggs. In this country, at least, vegetarianism has become an accepted label.

Conscientious meat-eaters, such as I have become, don't yet have such a recognisable tag.

Perhaps I should write “Free-ranger” on that invitation reply card and hope the term catches on. We could start a campaign for its acceptance right here.

IF there is one thing that divides the “free” world from the fundamentalists we are supposed to fear, it is a legal principle. The principle that every person is innocent until proven guilty. Not suspected. Proven.

It is the very principle the home secretary now proposes to dump.

David Blunkett was once a supposedly left-wing leader of Sheffield council. A very good one, as it happens.

Now he is proposing changes to the law that will allow “terrorism suspects” to be held indefinitely before they have done anything wrong.

Proof would no longer have to be established “beyond reasonable doubt” but merely “on the balance of probabilities”.

No wonder the Tory party has nowhere to go when a Labour home secretary can be as reactionary as this.

But it's worse. Blunkett proposes trials held in secret, not with juries but with “expert” secret judges. Trials, remember, not about what suspects have done, but about what they might do. Probably.

This is the law, and the politics, of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Saddam's Iraq.

HERE is a quiz question for you: Which country in Western Europe has the highest proportion of its population in prison - higher than Turkey, Malaysia, Libya or Burma?

Give up? It's Blunkett's Britain.

For every million people in France, 930 of them are in jail. Among a million Germans, 980 are banged up. In England and Wales, the figure is a shocking 1,410.

Is this because we are less law-abiding than the French, the Germans, the Italians or the Turks? Or because our courts are more gung-ho about locking folk away?

Either way, we should be ashamed.

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