Jamie’s Fowl Dinners, Channel 4

by | Jan 11, 2008 | All, Reviews

Waiters serve champagne and wine to the guests; Jamie turns up in a smart suit, his tie is skewiff to the right.

Jamie says that if you piled all the chicken eaten in Britain over one year it would stretch two-thirds of the way to the Moon. The audience aren’t astronauts or cosmologists.

Jamie places a box of ‘egg laying’ chicks on each of the tables and asks the guests to separate them into male and female. A woman guest with in a long black dress strokes a chick with her fingers, it’s then placed back in the box. A young man in a striped shirt blinks and smiles.

The male chicks are placed in a closed-off transparent compartment. A voiceover warns that “some viewers may find some of this disturbing”. It’s explained that male chicks are “depleted” because “they don’t make economic sense”.

As the carbon dioxide is pumped into the transparent compartment, the eyes of a woman with long flowing blonde hair become as shiny with tears as the ring on her finger or her dangling earrings; the furrowed forehead of the stock-still man beside her glistens under the studio lights.

As the chicks succumb one by one, a red-haired woman with glasses weeps, the camera goes in closer. She drops a hand in front of her mouth like a mediaeval portcullis to stem the tears. Another woman bites her lip, as does another woman with dyed black hair.

Jamie picks out one of the limp chick corpses and nervously drops it inside a snake cage, explaining that the “depleted” chicks are used to feed animals in zoos and pets. The snake isn’t hungry. The women guests aren’t upset anymore, and instead crane their necks to get a better view. One holds her pose as if a model being photographed.

Bill Oddie is introduced to talk about wild chickens in India. The tears are dry now. Oddie fiddles with the chain around his neck as he argues “the farm chicken isn’t really a bird at all”. He is loudly applauded by a sharp-faced man with pillbox eyes who looks as if he spent more time styling his hair than the cumulative lifespan of the chicks that were just gassed.

Jamie wheels on a mock-up of typical battery hen farming cages. The lights are raised slowly as “we don’t want to scare our battery hens”. At the end of the programme, all of them are released into the wild. A pair of ugly women gasp at the conditions battery hens live in.

Jamie brings a few guests for a closer inspection. A man with a thin beard, tumultuous footballer hair and a purple shirt exclaims: “It’s not very nice, is it? I wouldn’t want to live like this!” He isn’t a resident of a Sao Paulo shanty town.

Just before each ad break, Ricky Gervais insults Jamie’s efforts. Until the last few, when his elbows dig into his expensive-looking sofa as he visually illustrates his admiration for Jamie with generous hand gestures. Over his shoulder sits a collection of expensive-looking spirits on top of an expensive-looking sideboard. Gervais’s Emmy Awards aren’t in shot. “If people buy the cheapest eggs and the cheapest bird,” he argues, “they are buying into cruelty.”

Jane saves “spent” hens that are too old to produce good quality eggs and would otherwise be slaughtered. After her film there are smiles all round the audience, some have fixed Jane with a gaze of admiration.

Jamie is shown round an “industrial farm” in Lincolnshire. “No one’s filmed here before; it’s incredible access.” As he is led about the farm, Jamie’s bottom lip starts to quiver: “This has seriously blown me away.” Back at the studio a man strains to elicit his compassion for chickens by looking concerned and doleful.

Jamie “rummages through” the kitchen of Tori, 24, who says she doesn’t eat battery hen eggs. As Jamie finds battery hen eggs in the ingredients of her fridge, her horrified reaction is shown inset. She looks embarrassed, but manages to laugh it off.

Jamie says battery farm eggs are used in Hellman’s mayonnaise. The corporate PR of Hellman’s helpfully advertises that Hellman’s will be using free range eggs by June this year. Jamie thanks him for coming in, the audience applauds. It’s OK to eat Hellman’s.

Jamie makes two separate quiches – one using normal eggs, one using “wet eggs” that is derived from useless, broken eggs. He pops them both on the stove to cook; the audience’s applause is shot from four different angles.

A woman blessed with a pair of eyes doused in mascara, a pair of hands with rings on the fingers, lots of hair styled fashionably, and with no visible mental disability makes a sincere pledge through her lipstick decorated mouth that she’ll change her egg-buying habits after she’s been told how many chickens are squeezed into a cage.

An overweight woman says that she won’t change her buying habits because of the extra cost. Jamie labels her “stingy”.

Jamie’s “employers” Sainsbury’s are one of two companies who meet up with him to discuss battery farming. The spokeswoman advertises that Sainsbury’s have made a pledge to stop using battery hens. The Waitrose spokesman goes further; he insists that there “won’t be any caged eggs in our store at all, even in ingredients”. That’s Waitrose, W-A-I-T-R-O-S-E. You won’t be able to find a branch if you’re “stingy”.

Back in the studio, only two of the invited stores have sent representatives. Waitrose are there again, as are the Co-op, whose representative states, “80% of eggs sold in the Co-op are free range. We won’t have any battery hen eggs by February this year.” The response of the “stingy” woman isn’t shown.

Jamie explains that the “spent” chickens are fed through a “reclaimed meat machine”. He has one in the studio. It’s not a real one, but a “fake one” as the industry realised what he was up to and refused to loan him one as they “closed in on” him. None of the audience members is compelled to say, “No, I’m Spartacus!”

As the chicken carcass is fed through the machine a man with 2007 disco hair smirks and covers his mouth. A posh woman laughs. And again. And again. “It looks like shit!” exclaims Jamie. And again.

There’s a film of a PE teacher we assume is named Darlin’, who runs about but who has a passion for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Jamie visits a factory that processes 120,000 chicks every day. He gathers one in his hand, compliments it on its beauty before placing it back on the production line.

Back in the studio, Jamie asks his table of junk food eaters how old they believe chickens used in fast food are when slaughtered. A fat man in purple offers “six munfs”, while ‘Sweet Pea’ guesses “six months”. Jamie reveals it’s five-and-a-half weeks; a woman resets her glasses on her nose.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie show how cramped conditions will be in 2010 when EU legislation makes it legal to pack 100 birds into a five metre squared space.

Jamie informs his audience that the chickens he bakes with “live to 100 days before slaughter”.

Jamie handles a squawking, distressed chicken where it is electrocuted. A camera has been set up so the anguish of three women in an oblique line can be viewed at the same time. One of them might be crying. We feel upset too, but can’t tell whether we’re upset at the chicken’s slaughter, because the women are upset or that for the last hour-and-a-half how we are supposed to feel about the poultry industry in this country has been dictated to us by an over-dressed, gluttonous, theatrically neurotic miasma of human effluence who before tonight presumed that chickens are born in the same headless, footless, featherless state as they appear on supermarket shelves.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

11/01/2008

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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