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Multicultural Man: On Keith Floyd

WILL SELF on an era when eating meat seemed as blameless as the means employed to obtain it

Keith Floyd in Floyd On France - Credit: BBC

Sod Veganuary. No: really. Why? Because in the pristine temple that is my body, it’s Veganuary all year round. I gave up meat – yes, including fish without gills or scales, you picky Leviticus – in 2019.

I do not believe there is an anthropic solution to anthropogenic climate change – because of something deeply unfashionable called ‘human nature’. Nevertheless, the weirdness is that if everyone did as I have done, the climate emergency, and a lot else that threatens humans’ well-being, would be significantly mitigated.

I pride myself on not being one of those self-righteous vegetarians who makes all carnivores feel like murderers. Indeed, I still buy and cook meat for those members of my household who indulge. Moreover, far from meat viscerally disgusting me, I find I like it rather more now than I did when I was putting it in my mouth.

True, I don’t tend to gaze enraptured at others ripping, chewing and gnawing animal protein because – how can I put it? – it isn’t exactly pretty witnessing someone savour the means of their own destruction. And hasn’t been since around the time the evidence of the grossly disproportionate impact of animal husbandry on the environment became undeniable.

When this was will vary from individual to individual, but I was certainly eating beef with relish (and mustard and horseradish sauce) up until the early 2000s. This perhaps explains why I find it perfectly enjoyable to watch what might be termed ‘historic ham’; to wit: TV cooking shows from the previous millennium that show gastronomes’ guilt-free ingurgitation of all creatures great and small.

Specifically, those programmes made by Keith Floyd. I missed Floyd first time round: his 20-year sojourn on British television screens, from the mid 1980s to the mid-noughties, coincided with my having a life – of sorts.

Besides, from afar his schtick seemed like just another take on the English alcho-eccentric; as already portrayed by the likes of Peter Langan, the restaurateur, or Jeffrey Bernard, the journalist. But tipped off by my eldest, I’ve been basking in a beakerful of Floyd’s reheated bonhomie and bonheur since New Year.

A box set of DVDs, with everything from Floyd on Fish to Floyd’s Fjord Fiesta, enables a strange sort of time travel back to an era when eating meat seemed as blameless as the means employed to obtain it. True, by the time he’s swanning about Scandinavia and cooking up a storm in sub-zero al fresco locations, our man has become a little defensive: “I’m not here to judge…” he says, as he’s about to fricassee some puffins – while the corralling of seals by speedboat, and their despatch by rifle bullets brings forth only the observation that this is the Greenlanders’ culture.

Minutes later the hapless pinnipeds are comprehensively eviscerated, while Floyd is up to his elbows in blood and ouns. But if this ethical insouciance seems alien to the 2022 viewer, so too does Floyd’s casually worn culture.

Throughout Floyd on France, he speaks French if not exactly fluently, perfectly competently – and exhibits none of the ambivalent English attitude to all things Gallic, whereby an inferiority complex is offset by punishing the entire nation for wartime collaboration.

Floyd, who lived and worked in France as a restaurateur, chats to snobby chefs and foul-mouthed fishwives with no side at all – moreover, the BBC at this time was sufficiently sure of its own cultural mission not to provide any subtitles.

Breaking the fourth and glassy wall, like some bibulous Bertolt Brecht, Floyd also reminds us of how, even in the 1980s and 1990s, television had yet to lose its lustre: shot on film, the presence and ambitions of his cameraman are often alluded to, but the aim is not the lurid food porn of today’s cookery shows. Rather, in the prelapsarian world Floyd inhabits, the raw and the cooked are simply colours and textures among others.

Cooking in the open air, domestic and restaurant kitchens, he makes of his cuisine a true mise-en-scène – one I intend to remain happily ensconced in until February.

The only problem is what catchy hash-taggable name I can give to my month of purely virtual meaty indulgence, so as to encourage others to follow suit.

I know! It’s the 100th anniversary of the English publication of Proust’s epic evocation of la mémoire involontaire, so it’ll have to be #RemembranceofWingsPast.

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