Chickens, Hugh and Tesco Too with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall [video]
Editors' note: Last week, the UK's Channel 4 ran a multi-format series called The Great British Food Fight, featuring different programs with Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Heston Blumenthal, and Jamie Oliver. Eat me daily will be reviewing all of these shows this week. For our final installment, we're covering Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Chickens, Hugh and Tesco Too. We're including video clips, because (a) these shows are all very good, and (b) it's unlikely that these programs are going to air anywhere else outside of the UK. If you want to see them... well, we obviously don't suggest you pirate them. That would be illegal.
The British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's attempts to get Tesco, the grocery chain and UK's biggest chicken retailer, to improve the welfare of the chicken it sells are chronicled in the documentary Chickens, Hugh and Tesco Too . It's the second chapter in Hugh's ongoing chicken saga — the BBC previously aired Hugh's Chicken Run, in which the chef sets up his own farm to show the differences between "standard birds" (reared in packed, industrial conditions without access to natural light) and free range chickens. The response to the show was remarkable: Free range chickens sold out everywhere and three of the four major UK supermarkets stopped selling the standard birds. The one holdout? Tesco.
Fearnley-Whittingstall's tactic for getting Tesco to pay attention is to buy a single share of stock. On that authority, his goal is to submit a resolution for better chicken welfare at the annual shareholders' meeting. Tesco's having none of it, and Hugh is faced at every turn with obstacles: corporate doublespeak, a devious obstruction of an £86,000 bill for postage just to mail out the resolution, and a requirement by the board that his proposition would need 75% of the shareholder vote to pass.
Not surprisingly, the resolution doesn't pass — ten percent of the voters support it and nine percent abstain, which, we're reassured, is a lot. It all feels like a big letdown, as the show ends pretty suddenly after the vote fails, but Fearnley-Whittingstall vows to keep fighting on. He uses the argument that it's bad for Tesco's reputation (and thus bottom line) by continuing to support the lowest welfare standards. We can only imagine that the fallout from this show takes the form largely of negative PR for Tesco, so — fulfilling Hugh's prophecy — change appears to be on the horizon.