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A well-done steak isn’t a food choice: it’s a crime


Ido so love animals, especially dead, sliced up and roasted ones, their very life blood oozing out of them to the rim of my plate; the colour of conker on the outside, of velvet plush within. Stop wrinkling your nose like that. If it wasn’t for people like me wanting to eat them – and there are a few people like me – the animals wouldn’t exist. What matters is that, on their journey towards satisfying our appetites they should be treated with the utmost respect: a good life, a sweet death, and the attentions of someone who knows what the hell they are doing in the kitchen when it gets there. Because there really is no point taking the life of an animal if all you are going to do is ruin it the moment you get it near the fire. In short, asking for your steak well done is a crime against food.

A well done steak is not a matter of choice. It’s not a sweet affectation. It’s a violation. Why would anyone want to take a good piece of meat and cook it until it has the texture of shoe leather, but none of the utility? Why would they want to put something in their mouth that tastes of nothing and gives your jaw cramps? Why would they want to rob it of the very thing that makes it itself? Far too many people who describe themselves as carnivores prefer not to think about where their food has come from. The relationship between the one-time sentience of their meal and being sated by it disturbs them. And so they strive to disguise exactly what they are doing. Those of us who eat meat should face up to what it once was: a living creature that bled if it was pricked and can bleed still. We should eat it because we like the flavour, and a significant amount of that lies in its juices.

There are some who would say this is just snobbery. To which, as ever, I say: what do you mean, just? Snobbery is good. Snobbery is terrific. Snobbery is what makes the world move forward. Without snobbery we’d still be buying olive oil from the chemists and using it to cure earache. We’d still be thinking Vesta ready meals were a neat idea, drinking Blue Nun, squirting cream from a can and incinerating our steaks because meat with the blush of blood is what those funny foreign people across the channel like to eat. Snobs are in the vanguard.

Show me someone who likes their meat overcooked and I will show you a picky eater, someone who regards meal times as a set of challenges and insults to be negotiated, like oil-slicked chicanes on a race track. The well done steak is not simply a personal foible, like preferring pepperoni pizza to a margarita. It is a mark of a life unlived, of a childish world view retained. Of a distinct fearfulness.

Talk to someone who insists on having their meat incinerated and eventually they will mutter about contagion and sickness, as if eating was a game of Russian roulette. And yes, of course, certain things do need to be cooked through; I am not eating chicken tartar made from a bird that originated in the British flock any day soon. But with beef or lamb or venison, duck or grouse, and even with pork these days, serving it rare so the juices run is not a quick route to the nearest cemetery. It is a quick route to a good meal. Perhaps you still can’t stomach the idea. Maybe the sight of pink flesh makes you heave. In which case you really shouldn’t be eating meat at all. You don’t deserve it.