Commentary: Tasty — and rare

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If you’re a fan of sharp, incisive writing, you’re missing out if you don’t occasionally scan Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper. Their columnists don’t pull their punches when taking on a controversial issue.

Exhibit A: A commentary this week by one Robert Colvile titled, “Stop this campaign against rare meat: If the food fascists get their way, would life without steak be worth living?”

Colvile begins his rant thus: “I’ve lost count of the number of vegetarians who have urged me to eat less meat on the grounds that I’m damaging not just the planet, but my own health. Well, tough. Giving up steak would be like taking up jogging. Yes, you might live longer, but what can such a life be worth?”

His ire was triggered not by some draconian rule-making from Britain’s national government, but a decision by the Westminster city council, which regulates food safety in restaurants.Foodies across the pond apparently fear that, like a food-borne outbreak, this new regulation is only the first evidence of what could become a spreading disease.

“I went to a restaurant in the next-door borough of Chelsea called Black & Blue,” Colvile wrote. “This is a place that serves steak. Its entire rationale is to serve steak. Its very name suggests—demands—that you should be able to order a joint that’s charred on the outside and bleeding in the middle. Otherwise you might as well call it Grey & Pinkish.

“So my friend ordered a burger, rare. ‘Sorry,” they said, ‘can’t do it. Policy.’ Ha, I thought, that’ll teach you for daring to order your meat minced. Then I ordered a rare steak, and it was my turn to see red—or rather, to see no red at all.”

Of course, this British controversy, localized though it currently might be, has arisen against a background of recent U.S. news coverage of the risks involved with mechanical tenderizing of whole-muscle beef, which critics claim can drive pathogens into the meat, thus requiring higher temperature cooking.

Many industry experts insist that tenderizing is safe, although others caution that additional interventions to kill surface pathogens are warranted.

But that’s hardly the issue for Colvile.

“Partly, it’s the cowardice [of the new rule] that upsets me,” he continued.“Rather than proposing an outright ban on rare meat—and being howled down by the carnivore constituency—the food fascists simply make it ever harder to serve [rare meat] via ultra-stringent hygiene standards and the unspoken threat of legal action from stomach-clutching customers. It’s the wider attempt, in a thousand little ways, to create a pasteurised (sic) version of real life, in which no one ever comes to harm because no one’s ever allowed to decide anything for themselves.

“Mostly, though, I’m upset because of the insult to the food. Yes, you can make a risk-free steak, but the result (to quote Anthony Bourdain), is ‘a flavourless, leathery hunk of carbon.’ ”

The man can turn a phrase. Both of ’em.

Perhaps the best part of the story, though, was the cheeky comments from Brits rankled by Westminster’s “nanny state” overreach.

‘Artistic Expression’ wrote: “I’ve never been poorly after eating a rare steak, and if I have a dicky tummy well,bugs are everywhere. The worst reaction I’ve had to food is from some haddock chowder soup. I was vomiting for ages after that. That wasn’t ‘rare’ ”

‘Pete AFC’ wrote:“It always astounds me when steak ‘aficionados’ order the finest, most expensive cut of steak, then ask for it well-done. I don’t see the attraction in sawing through a brown hunk of meat, then chewing away at the tough blackened lump . . . yuk!”

‘KFC1440’ (what is he, a radio station?) wrote: “Still mooing, that's the best way to eat it. If you gave it the kiss if life, it would get up off your plate and walk. Yummy”

‘Eviltory’ wrote: “More and more often, I come to the conclusion that anyone who proposes any restriction on our behaviour that does not explicitly and provably risk other people’s lives should be taken out and shot. This [new rule] is not an isolated incident; it is typical of a certain type of nanny-statist mindset. We cannot vote these scum out of office because they are mostly not elected; like cockroaches, they hide in the cracks of our legislative and regulatory bodies. I hate them. Genuinely, truly, hate them all.”

And on that upbeat note, have a wonderful weekend, and if it happens to involve the consumption of less-than well-done beef, Happy Holidays!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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