Genesis 1:26. Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Not wishing to examine the ostensibly arguable intervention of the divine, and those strenuous first 6 days, I would much prefer to concentrate on the latent intervention of man. And what a calamitous man-made sanction those early chapters of the Bible have seemingly validated. And that’s before we touch upon the gastronomic sorcery generated by Leviticus.

By way of a secular alternative to the rights of man, perhaps we might warm to the less demonstrative passage from Brigid Brophy’s Sunday Times article, The Rights of Animals, in 1965.

“In point of fact, I am the very opposite of an anthromorphiser. I don’t hold animals superior or even equal to humans. The whole case for behaving decently to animals, rests on the fact that we are the superior species. We are the species uniquely capable of imagination, rationality and moral choice – and that is precisely why we are under the obligation to recognise and respect the rights of animals”

Many citizens, living in the developed world, are increasingly disconnected from the provenance of the food they eat, least of all the rights of animals they consume. From the viewpoint of metropolitan dwellers, our precious countryside and its edible produce have become sentimentalised, misunderstood or wantonly obfuscated by the multiple retailers. All the while we are witnessing the indifferent social customs that allow the expediency of barbarous farming methods to triumph over a natural link to some of the wild riches still available to us.

Although I live in a rural environment, and with a borrowed shotgun was once the agent of the clumsy dispatch of a pheasant, I have little enthusiasm for blood sports generally. But in spite of being a somewhat conflicted omnivore, I’m not averse to eating the outcome of any speedy termination of wild, edible creatures. No fan of the fox hunt or the badger cull, I remain perplexed at how the nation’s animal lovers rose against such numerically insignificant distress whilst remaining happy to ignore the daily horrors of intensive animal husbandry encountered by millions of domestic livestock.

Back to that Brigid Brophy article again “Whenever people say, ‘We mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, ‘We must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.”

Approximately 21 million chickens, 200,000 pigs and 50,000 cattle, the bulk of which are reared under brutal, chemically suffused conditions, are slaughtered in the UK every single week. Extensive cruelty is frequently endured in the name of efficient farming, cheap nutrition and that old chestnut, shareholder dividend. By way of a shabby postscript to the underbelly of industrial food production and its tacit support of our propensity for food waste, a third of them end up in landfill.

We appear increasingly divorced from the simple wild places our imaginations seem to crave. Indeed, those places and natural resources that we as a species are existentially reliant upon. On the sticky commercial issue of choosing free-range creatures in place of cheap meat, I simply eat proportionately less of the former and none of the latter. Budget per week therefore remains stable. More replacement vegetables are happily selected for the kitchen. And of course, more wild game – whilst they still have a habitat to be wild in – many of which are in season all year round.

Most animals in ‘feedlots’ endure a brutally denatured life consisting of relentlessly bad days. Free range animals, or wild game, lead a potentially natural life until they succumb to only one bad day. And unless Gwyneth Paltrow has finally discovered the secret balm of eternal well-being, all living creatures eventually succumb to one bad day.

No film has so effortlessly captured the city/country divide than the 1987 cult film; Withnail and I, but you don’t have to undergo the countryside challenges undertaken by Richard. E. Grant (“we’ve gone on holiday by mistake”) in his attempt to locate food amidst the mud and rain of night time Cumbria, to benefit from rural produce. Unexpectedly, Covid left us with an increased online link to regenerative farmers, thoughtful butchers, game dealers and organic ingredients, so laying your hands on sustainable bucolic riches – if you are city based or merely marooned in a run down Cumbrian cottage – has never been easier.

It was for breasts of Wood Pigeon that I recently called on the nearby butcher. For those millennials who’ve perhaps not heard the term before, a butcher’s shop was once a familiar building in towns and cities. Wood Pigeons, as opposed to their metropolitan cousins the grimy Feral Pigeons berating visitors to Trafalgar Square, are larger, plumper and more dramatically liveried. Their virtues fall on deaf ears with some farmers who consider them a pest, mainly because of the damage they visit upon arable crops. Result, they are plentiful all year round. Alongside their rich woodland diet of buds, acorns and various berries, their meat provides us with a rich store of beneficial minerals. They aren’t knowingly fed chemicals, they live a self-determining life in trees, they mate with any other pigeon that gives them the time of day, they can change neighborhoods whenever the mood takes them and they’re a cinch to cook.

Rich Pigeon Pâté from Good Game (1993) Victoria Jardine-Paterson.

Skinned breasts of 6 pigeons

50g smoked bacon, finely snipped

175g lard

175g butter

150 ml brandy

2 tsp mixed herbs

2 cloves garlic

12 juniper berries, crushed

1 tbsp redcurrant or medlar jelly

2 tsp English mustard Sea salt and white pepper, to taste

200ml melted butter

Dice the breasts into small cubes.

Melt the butter and lard in a heavy bottomed pan and lightly fry the bacon and onion until they are golden.

Remove from the pan and reserve in a bowl.

Sauté the diced breasts in the remaining fat until they are lightly cooked, making sure they are still pink inside. Remove from the fat and reserve with the onions and bacon.

Now add herbs along with juniper berries, garlic, redcurrant, mustard and brandy to the pan juices and bubble rapidly for 3-5 minutes.

Put the pigeon mixture and the juices into a processor and whizz until finely ground. You may have to do this in batches. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into an earthenware terrine or individual ramekins, cover with the melted butter and leave to set.

Cover with cling film and refrigerate, best after 2-3 days.

Eat at room temperature with brown toast.

Wine thoughts

I first tried this dish with a plush Pinot Noir from the Côte D’or, in Burgundy’s famous heartland. Thankfully less tannic than the reds of Bordeaux, but with a little bottle age, Pinot Noir can produce truffle scented, gamey, farmyard flavours – eminently well suited to partner all our native feathered game.