Review: Food: The Meat Fix by John Nicholson
Bite Back Books
£12.99 Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
Twenty-six years ago, journalist John Nicholson, previous nominee for the Sports Book Of The Year award in the UK, decided to move with his partner to a rural cottage.
While there, they decided, they would live as naturally as possible, keeping chickens for eggs and meat.
However, when they tried to dispatch one of the birds, the results were so gross they decided to never do it again.
So, went their logic, if they weren't prepared to kill their own food then they wouldn't feel morally comfortable asking someone else to do it for them so they decided to become vegetarian.
It's an argument proffered by many vegetarians who argue that anyone who eats pork or beef should go to an abattoir and see where their meat actually comes from.
It's fine as far as it goes, but like a lot of arguments in favour of vegetarianism, it's simplistic -- a bit like saying that if you can't fly a plane then you shouldn't use air travel.
But Nicholson decided that they would live the veggie life -- lots of beans and pulses, plenty of soy products and, in general, they would have a healthy lifestyle. In fact he went to the next stage and became a vegan.
There was, however, one problem -- Nicholson spent the next 26 years feeling awful, in discomfort or pain from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, overweight and lacking in energy.
Anyone who gets through his chapter on how he coped, and sometimes didn't, with his constant need to go to the bathroom will understand just how awful it was. He pulls no punches and you have to admire him for being so honest about such an embarrassing condition.
But this is not a book of self pity -- it's a book of humour, some exquisite writing and, most importantly, a terrible burning anger; an anger against elements of the vegetarian movement, an anger against himself for believing some of the things he had been told, but most of all, an anger against the medical establishment, in particular the dieticians and nutritionists of the NHS, as well as the GPs who failed to take his predicament seriously.
After all, he told them, he was living a healthy life, he didn't eat meat or processed food and he should be the poster boy for healthy living. Yet here he was, plagued with stomach problems, depressed and constantly farting -- and that was the least of his physical woes.
He wonders why it was that when he was growing up in the north of England, nearly everything he ate was cooked with lard and their working class diet was as high in fat as they could get -- yet he cannot recall seeing an overweight person when he was a kid.
Now here he was in later life, a clean-living veggie who avoided all that nasty processed stuff and he was overweight and suffering from a variety of undiagnosable and extremely unpleasant stomach conditions.
Fed up with the mantra spouted by the NHS, he began to do his own research and realised what he was missing most was. . . meat.
Certain vital vitamins and compounds are only available from meat, he learned, while an over-reliance on soy products can take a catastrophic physical and mental toll on a person.
So he and his partner decided to do something they hadn't done for the guts of three decades -- eat meat.
His description of that first chop they tried should have been called A Sort Of Homecoming. He goes into lip- smacking detail about the joy of chomping into a piece of hot flesh and feeling the grease and flavour roll down your throat.
He goes into detail about the almost orgasmic joy he attained from doing a nice roast and he waxes lyrical about the simple joy of a good steak.
And then an interesting thing happened -- his Irritable Bowel Syndrome immediately disappeared.
He says it went away within 24 hours of having his first piece of meat. While that seems improbable, the immediate improvement in his health was evident for all to see. He no longer suffers from IBS and he feels healthy and energetic.
This is an important book, one written from a place of painful first-hand experience and one which will no doubt be seen as an heretical text by vegetarians.
And that is the supreme irony of The Meat Fix -- the very people who should be reading this are likely to be burning it instead.
The perfect gift for any vegetarian friend you might want to annoy.