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We need to talk about meat Good or bad, right or wrong, now or never

Francesco Buscemi

Francesco Buscemi

Meat is once again a central topic in nutrition, sustainability, health and capitalism. Points pro and con fly back and forth with no resolution in sight, not surprising given the doctrinaire nature of the discussion. I know where I personally stand, but I also want to try and understand why it is that people feel so much more strongly about meat than about any other element of the diet. That’s why I was very glad to meet Francesco Buscemi last year, and to persuade him to talk to me about his research on the many meanings of meat.

Some chicken …

Francesco’s aside about Winston Churchill was sufficiently intriguing to send me searching. What Churchill wrote was

We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

The quotation is apparently well-loved by anti-meat campaigners, but was unknown to me. It appears in an essay called Fifty years hence that was published first in Maclean’s magazine in November 1931 and then in many other places, with minor edits. The version easiest to find online is in Popular Mechanics a few months later, somewhat more adventurous in some of its predictions. The chicken quote precedes other prognostications on the same subject.

Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished. That gloomy Utopia of tabloid meals need never be invaded. The new foods will be practically indistinguishable from the natural products from the outset, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.

Tabloid, here, is used in the sense of a small, concentrated dose, and I’m surprised it isn’t capitalised, being a brand name trade-marked by the Burroughs & Wellcome drug company. Would Winston have embraced a meat-free vegan chicken drumstick? Are the new foods “indistinguishable”? I have my doubts, but what’s an out of work jobbing journalist to do?

Butcher shops in Italy do still display full carcasses, especially in touristy towns.

The Adriatic question

Aside from Churchill, the other fascinating byway down which Francesco’s book beckoned me was the Regency of Fiume, established by the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio in 1920. You can find a fair bit of information in Wikipedia and elsewhere. I haven’t explored all that much, but it does seem that d’Annunzio created a forerunner of facism and hippy communes.

The Writer, Seducer, Aviator, Proto-Fascist, Megalomaniac Prince Who Shaped Modern Italy is great fun and gives some of the flavour of the man.


  1. Francesco Buscemi’s book From Body Fuel to Universal Poison: Cultural History of Meat: 1900-The Present is available through Amazon.
  2. Personally, I’m avoiding all discussion of the comparative merits of different forms of non-meat. There’s just too much uncertainty about almost all of the assumptions.
  3. Reducetarianism really is a thing. What kind of thing, I couldn’t possibly say.
  4. Postage stamp of d’Annunzio scanned by Stan Shebs, Public Domain.
  5. Other photos by me.

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  • Nicola Davies
  • Jeremy Cherfas
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  1. @eatthispodcast No, but when I went through a vegetarian phase years ago I loved these. I’d still have them once in a while if I could find them. They fall under the Buddhist Chinese vegan/vegetarian fare which is usually incredibly tasty and very satisfying, especially in the restaurants that specialize in this fare. The best meat-free or meat substitutes out there. I’m not vegan or vegetarian now but I’m not a daily meat eater either. I prefer it only once, maybe twice a week.


  • Thinking about your meat eating? Your not meat eating? Listen to this. It’ll help you think more clearly @EatPodcast @MarkAvery @ChrisGPackham @ExtinctionR @BellaLack

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  • “We need to talk about meat” is going on the top of my listen to first podcast list.