Saturday, 30 September 2017

Meads point was not lost on me

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In a past life I despised vegetarians with a vengeance; and animal rights people. Once an animal rights person threw a brick through our butcher’s shop window bearing a cryptic note which questioned the veracity of my parentage and contained other uncomplimentary messages about scumbags who sell meat for a living. I publicly responded that I hoped the brick thrower wasn’t wearing leather shoes or a leather belt, but the perpetrator was never found so an evaluation of their dress code was never assessed.

Some years ago, when driving in the pouring rain to Wellington, I picked up a parka-clad hooded hitchhiker who to my surprise turned out to be an apple eating young lady who spent the remainder of the journey discoursing about the delights of being a vegetarian. I scarcely got a word in edgeways as she recounted the virtues of a meat free diet, particularly pertaining to the robust good health she had enjoyed since embarking upon this wretched lifestyle, some five years previous. I tried to stake my own claim, boasting too of an illness-free life, despite an almost obscene daily intake of red meat. In the process I offered up the argument that the Creator wouldn’t have given us carnivorous teeth if it was intended we live on a diet of bean sprouts and, in deference to her current penchant, apples. She ignored my protestations and promoted her cause with the fervour of an evangelical Christian.

Praise God for Cook Strait. Her arguments were so compelling had she been in the car any longer it’s entirely possible she would have gained the most unlikely of converts and caused a huge philosophical conflict with my inherited three generational vocation.

Colin Meads was always one of my hero’s for his exploits on the rugby field, but he went up even higher in my estimations when he came out firing on all cylinders in defense of meat eaters in general and the All Blacks in particular.

Meads reckoned the All Blacks losing streak at the time was likely caused by the pasta diet they have had to endure from Wednesday onwards before a Saturday international. In his day, he espoused, on the morning of a test, it was steak and two eggs for breakfast and then cold meat and mashed spuds for lunch. Pasta was not an option for a real man, he claimed, and that’s why Italy had never won a world cup. I wanted to give him a standing ovation but to be perfectly honest, his claim doesn’t bear close scrutiny.

Although Meads’ contribution to the team was monumental, the All Blacks weren’t exactly world beaters in his day either. If my memory serves me correctly, during his tenure we comprehensively lost three out of four tests in South Africa and in 1971 he captained the team to its first ever series loss in the British Isles. This despite the All Blacks presumably having bellies full of the finest steak and the freshest eggs.

They beat Italy, but back then so too could the Wairarapa College first fifteen.

Chris Laidlaw tells the delightful story of how the 1963 All Blacks traveled to Italy tourist class, in the back of the aeroplane, and were exhausted and hungry when they finally reached Rome. None of them could speak Italian and despite numerous attempts, were unable to acquire anything but pasta from the hotel dining room. Words like fettucini, canelloni and lasagne dominated every menu, Laidlaw claims, and Meads steadfastly refused to partake, saying that this type of food was unheard of in New Zealand. He opted to starve until an interpreter could be found to order up some real sustenance. So Meads’ anxieties were deep-rooted.

Pasta of course wasn’t unheard in New Zealand. A form of it was canned by Wattie’s and sold as Spaghetti, a much despised dish by anyone who actually had taste buds and any child who came to school with spaghetti sandwiches was to be the most pitied of infants.

So I empathised with Meads on that one. The only sensible use for flour and water that I knew of in my formative years was the makings of inexpensive glue used to paste pictures in our scrapbooks. For Wattie’s to merely add tomato sauce to this and then sell it as an edible item was, to a large extent, immoral.

(My more sophisticated family always have me sit at another table whenever we go to an Italian restaurant and I order conventional fare from the tucked-away section of the menu that allows for such plebeian tastes.)

The other problem with Meads’ argument though was that the carnivorous Kiwi’s don’t always fare well at the Olympics, despite their first world diets. On the other hand the Ethiopians, who wouldn’t recognise a steak and egg breakfast if they fell over one, and the Cubans, who only eat white meat, in the form of chicken, and even then only when the Pope visits, have often showed us what real stamina is in the fields of long distance running and boxing, respectively.

And a few years back the English rugby team managed to win a string of tests against formidable opponents at a time when you’d be mad to eat British beef and become even madder if you did.

Anyway, I’m pretty relaxed about vegetarians these days; live and let live I say, now my livelihood doesn’t depend on it. I would even break bread with the animal rights people whereas once I only wanted to break heads.

There was also of course more than a touch of self-preservation in the Meads utterances. A sheep and beef farmer it made good sense for him to be promoting the end product of his labours. Never part of the professional football era, he had to fall back on conventional agrarian pursuits to keep the wolf from the door.

Isn’t it funny how most of our prejudices are dominated by the dollar?

“Hunger is the best sauce in the world.” - Miguel de Cervantes 


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