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Ian O'Doherty: I actually feel sorry for Rachel -- those birds were fair game

Oh for the love of God! That can be the only sane response to what already ranks as the most ridiculous scandal of the year so far.

Yes, yes, I know we're only six days into 2012 but I genuinely believe that we will be hard pressed to encounter a controversy quite as bloody ridiculous as 'PheasantGate', which nobody else but myself is calling it.

Unless you've been living on Mars with a bucket over your head for the last couple of days, you will undoubtedly be aware of the fact that TV chef and Ireland's favourite yummy mummy, Rachel Allen, has incurred the wrath of the anti-animal cruelty brigade.

Was she exposed as being involved in organising a highly illegal dog-fighting ring?

Has the media discovered that when she's not rustling up a quick frittata, she likes to spend her spare time badge-baiting? Or does she like to relax by recreationally pinching orphaned puppies?

No, she is guilty of a crime far worse than the hypothetical scenarios presented above -- she went on a pheasant shoot.

Now, maybe I missed a meeting or something, but the last time I checked, meat comes from . . . animals.

I know, that's a controversial position to take up, but the hysterical reaction to the picture of Allen with a couple of dead pheasants on the bonnet of her car would lead you to think that she had personally gone to their nest, throttled them with her bare hands and was about to stuff them and mount them on her wall as some sort of sick trophy.

In an increasingly hysterical and puritanical culture, anyone who feels offended by something, no matter how innocuous, now feels like they have the right to pillory and vilify the person who has annoyed them.

Thus, we now have calls from people like the Animal Rights Action Network to boycott all of her merchandise.

Now, I should declare here that I am neither for nor against Rachel Allen.

If anything, I find her plummy accent quite grating -- I suppose you could say that she suffers from Irritating Vowel Syndrome -- but, by and large, she comes across as a decent enough sort.

But consider this response to Allen's pheasant shoot, from an animal rights activist: "Rachel, I am disgusted that you support the cruel act of inflicting pain and suffering on our fellow animals, it is very sad and disappointing. I am shocked."

Now, I'm sure the feckin' eejit who said that undoubtedly thinks that they are Holier than thou and I also have no doubt that they feel themselves to be more morally upright and righteous than the rest of us, but the mealy mouthed, sanctimonious cant from so many people merely reinforces the idea that a lot of people are . . . well, a bit thick, to be honest.

Too many of us have completely lost touch with the food that we eat.

To be honest, I blame supermarkets for this.

After all, when you consider that most of the meat they sell looks like pink bubblegum that has been shrink-wrapped in plastic, it's almost impossible to imagine that it was once part of an animal.

And this de-natured approach to animals and the meat they provide has produced a generation of people who are quite happy to eat meat but who get freaked out and irate when they are confronted with the reality of said meat's provenance.

As regular readers will know, I am an animal lover and am involved with a couple of dog rescue sanctuaries, but my love for animals doesn't stop with the canine variety.

Having said that, I am also an enthusiastic carnivore and while some vegetarian dishes are undeniably delicious, I would find it hard to live my life without crispy roast pork or beef on the bone or spare ribs.

So how can you reconcile eating meat while at the same time claiming to love animals?

Well, the answer is actually quite simple: as long as the animal concerned has had a decent life, was as free range as possible and was then killed humanely, then it fits in perfectly with the natural order of life.

After all, we are top of the food chain and while I don't buy into the fallacy that animals have rights, I am a firm believer that we have a debt of responsibility towards them.

And that's why I have been laughing darkly at the furore over the picture of Allen with the pheasants.

For starters, they lived in the wild, had a good life and, given her obvious prowess in the kitchen, their death won't have been in vain, but what really struck me the most was the sheer hypocrisy and stupidity of the objectors.

Which, for you, is worse: pheasant that lived fresh in the wild or a factory-farmed chicken?

I don't want to ruin your breakfast but the conditions that battery hens endure are quite horrific, which is what makes that obnoxious fool Marco Pierre White's endorsement of Bernard Matthews poultry so disgraceful.

Yet people are quicker to rush to Liveline and other radio stations, and to write angry letters, about a few bloody pheasants?

Frankly, that kind of double standard makes me sick -- because as far as I'm concerned, as long as you are killing an animal for the pot, then everything is fair game, while anyone who kills a creature as a trophy is a sick degenerate who probably needs psychological help.

I fish whenever I can and I derive no pleasure from dispatching what I have caught, but none of it goes to waste and as anyone who has ever cast a line will tell you, there is nothing better than the taste of something you have caught yourself.

Likewise, I am sure, with birds that you have shot.

So, well done to all the whingers out there who object to Allen's deeds -- you have actually made me feel sorry for her.

And that, I can assure you, is not a sentiment I ever thought I would feel.

Irish Independent