Beef and Liberty: Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation by Ben Rogers - review by Kathryn Hughes

Kathryn Hughes

Mad Cows & Englishman

Beef and Liberty: Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation


Chatto & Windus 197pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

BEEF-EATING AND Englishness have gone together pretty much since time and coolung - in the form of a spit over an open fire - began. In this smart, sharp studv of food nationalism, Ben Kogers takes as hs starting point the peculiar desolation of BSE and teases out the reasons why the English have so much of their cultural and political identity invested in the vractice of eating dead cows. I " Throughout history beef has gone through periodic scares, shortages and inflation that have made it unpleasant or expensive to consume. But would be hard to imagine the Enghsh giving it up or substituting, say, a nice piece of fish. Salmon, no matter how interestingly you cook it, will never muster the symbolic weight to suggest liberty, strength, honesty and sheer I niceness all in a single forkful.

Rogers starts his analysis on the eve of Agincourt, when the French lords are qialung at the thought of going into battle against an Enghsh army helled by 'great meals of beef'. Whether or not Henry V's soldiers really were getting their strength up with a Ace bit of steak

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