In Shakespeare's Henry V the French lords quail at the thought of British soldiers, who eat like wolves and fight like devils after 'great meals of beef'.
Two centuries later, eighteenth-century England rings to boisterous renderings of 'The Roast Beef of Old England' and loud cries of 'Beef and Liberty'. And even today, in the Telegraph in June 2002, a farmer blames the French defeat in the World Cup on their ban on British beef.
Eating meat rich with blood recalls ancient beliefs that it endows power, life and passion.
It is a manly food, fit for fighting men: in the Napoleonic wars the British navy gave its sailors a staggering 208 pounds of beef a year.
But why are so many beefy images linked to British 'freedom'.
In this sparkling, provocative book Ben Rogers follows a linked set of icons - roast beef and John Bull, bull dogs and butchers -showing how the bull came to define plain, stubborn, Protestant Englishness against corrupt, effeminate, Catholic Europe. His tale is rich in vivid historical detail; from the use of the roasting jack and the outcries against French fricassees to the famous 'Durham Ox' which toured Britain in 1802, and the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks (exclusively male), which still meets in London today.
Lively, funny and illuminating, illustrated throughout with prints and drawings, including famous works by Hogarth and Gillray, Beef and Liberty is a feast to relish, an entirely original history, and a pioneering study in a new subject - food nationalism.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 224 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 15/04/2003
- Category: Social & cultural history
- ISBN: 9780701169800
- Paperback from £7.09