MY APPETITE is always piqued whenever I pass Allens of Mayfair, Britain’s oldest fleshpot, still as alluring today as when it first opened its doors in 1830.
Out front, conifer filled zinc planters, a blackboard scrawled with daily specials and a black canopy with elegant ivory script, announce the heritage and provenance of one of the finest butchers in the land. Yet it is not its livery but the window display which is the real focus: not since Amsterdam have I seen a more flesh-filled window, pig carcasses hang like stalactites with their little trotters pointing down towards trays of ribs, T-bone steaks and assorted game. It is a carnivorous feast for the eyes.
While residents of Mayfair are proud of their butcher and his wares, the management of JBS Family Butchers in Sudbury have had to deal with an argumentative public who have no wish to see what they eat. The butcher once boasted a fine display of edible wares in their window, until a protest campaign of anonymous hate mail, complaints to the local press and visitors entering the shop to hurl abuse at the staff prompted a change of heart and display.
As Richard Nicholson, the assistant manager, said: “We really put a lot of effort into the window display to make it look special and attract customers. There have been pheasants, partridge, rabbits and even half a pig. We live in a market town in the countryside, so I am surprised people feel this way. It is tough trading against the big supermarkets so we are up against it already without this happening.”
Finally, after a call to boycott the butcher as well as neighbouring shops, the owner relented and replaced the hung game with a small sign that read: “Due to complaints there is no window display.”
One complainant who wrote to the local paper said the scene “must be upsetting for children who have animals”. While another said: “Everyone knows animals are killed to get meat but you don’t need it shoved in your face like this.”
This is an issue that needs to be properly jointed. First, to a committed vegetarian or vegan who genuinely believes that animals should never, under any circumstances, be killed then served up as food, I can appreciate how such a window display would be deeply offensive. To such individuals the window of JBS Family Butchers will be viewed as a macabre celebration of slaughter and their stance in opposition is backed by the integrity of their abstinence from animal flesh. So while I might disagree with their views I can admire their commitment.
Let’s now take the carving knife to the fatty, gelatinous views of those who do not believe that “Meat is Murder”, those who will happily sit down to a Sunday roast, savour a rare steak or rave about duck a l’orange in a chic new restaurant but who are outraged at being confronted with the marbled Baconesque reality of what is so often slipped onto the plate and disguised under a cream coloured blanket of bearnaise sauce. This is cowardly hypocrisy. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that we who do eat meat should necessarily be involved in the killing and butchering, though I admire those who do so, but nor should we expect to be entirely insulated from the faces and carcasses of those beasts whose flesh we do so enjoy.
As for the correspondent who feared for the response of children with animals upon catching a glimpse of the butcher’s display, well all I can say is that traditions should not be cleared away in order to avoid an honest conversation.
Unfortunately, the modern supermarket is only too happy to cater for those who enjoy eating meat but never care to be reminded of its point of origin. Around this time last year Britain was waking up to the fact that the food supply chain had become horrendously compromised and as a result hundreds of thousands if not millions of people were, in blissful ignorance, munching down on horse meat. If it was a choice between the bold and I think beautiful honesty of butchers with their window displays that resemble a still life painting and the blank ignorance of the supermarket chain with its processed meat of uncertain origin, I’d rather join the queue at JBS.