Lovefood editor Andrew makes the case for eating plenty of meat - so long as you know where it comes from.
A juicy steak, a plump sausage, a charred lamb chop. It’s fair to say that I really enjoy eating good meat. Here’s why I think you should too.
Wet, grassy Britain
Britain is a wet, grassy island in Northern Europe. It is not the place to grow aubergines. The hills, mountains and pastures of this land are, however, the perfect place to rear livestock. Simon Fairlie makes the case for producing meat in harmony with the environment in his throughly well researched book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, which I strongly urge you to read. This is a book that even convinced George Monbiot to change his mind on his ‘vegan is the only way’ statement. It calls for a re-evaluation of our relationship with the land and what we produce on it.
Yes, industrialised agriculture and the feeding of grain to animals is a disaster. Cows and sheep are designed to eat grass; pigs meanwhile are designed to eat waste, be that acorns, grubs or our own leftovers. This was how we farmed and raised animals from around 8,000 years ago until the nineteenth century. It is how it should be done.
A Highland cow fed naturally on wild grasses, then killed and eaten locally will have a lot less of an environmental impact than a grain fed imported American cow. Also while a cow might excrete 120kg of methane a year, sheep only excrete 8kg, and pigs a tiny 1.5kg, while I probably put out that amount of Co2 annually myself (if you'll excuse me).
Meat isn’t the only environmental extravagance though; what about the land and water used to produce booze? In 2012 humanity produced 24,820,000,000 litres of wine, yet when it apparently takes 960 litres of water to make each litre you can see that’s a lot of resources used for very little nutritional gain. 'Ah, but booze makes me feel good’ you might reply. Yeah? Well steak makes me feel good too.
Killing in the name of...
Human beings kill things: bacteria, aphids, mice, fish, cows, each other. The killing of animals is a moral issue and therefore each of us draw our line in the sand in a different place. Having visited farms and abattoirs I have no qualms about killing animals for food. I think it only fair that it’s done swiftly and without prolonged suffering. Which is why I support the views of Compassion in World Farming.
Why aren’t more of us vegetarian?
The Vegetarian Society was formed in 1848, yet in 2000 only 2% of the population (around three million people) described themselves as vegetarian. Now to put that in some sort of context in 2006 a survey found that 4.2 million people in the UK said they were Manchester United fans. That’s right, there’s more Man United fans than vegetarians in Britain.
I use this slightly facetious comparison to highlight the fact that, after 160 years of campaigning by the Vegetarian Society and other groups, vegetarianism hasn't rallied people to its cause in any great numbers. The movement’s founding fathers in that hotel in Manchester had bigger social reform in mind, with vegetarianism running alongside the temperance campaign. However, there were other social campaigns from that time too. These included the abolition of slavery, the end of child labour and the emancipation of women. All these have come to fruition and are now part of our society, yet so far vegetarianism is yet to gain more than a small foothold.
Why is this the case? Well eating meat and dairy products seem hardwired into our culture, and I just don’t see that changing any time soon. We have no history of religious abstinence, unlike the ancient Indian religions.
The real fallout from the horse meat scandal
Some of you may well have decided to go veggie following the horse meat scandal. What’s more likely is that many more people avoid poorly-produced industrial mystery meat. That is a good thing. After all what's so tragic about the whole episode is that meals like spag bol regularly top the charts of dishes us Brits can make without a recipe, and the ingredients are relatively cheap! Something has gone deeply wrong with our relationship not just to meat, but to all food.
It seems we’ve lost our connection with what we eat. We think of it as something that just passes through us and fuels us to rush to work or slump in front of the TV. But it doesn’t, it actually becomes part of us.
Good meat is expensive because it takes time, space, talent and energy to produce. But then so does Champagne, or designer clothes, or iPhones. The past 40 years have been such a flurry of interesting new technologies, events, and social changes that the proper procurement of good food has fallen right down our must-have lists. At the same time ‘industry’ have been giving us worse and worse quality food and we’ve not noticed, until now. Let’s change that.
When I was a child we kept chickens, and it was my job to collect the eggs. Eventually when the birds went ‘off the lay’ my parents decided to get rid of them, and they were swiftly dispatched. This wasn’t in some rural country idyll; we lived on the outskirts of Coventry. Being near animals connects you to the rhythm of life. You value those eggs and that meat, because you’ve personally invested time and effort in their production.
I believe there are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bits on an animal, only good or bad animals. If a pig or cow or sheep has been well raised, with freedom to move and a good healthy diet, all of it is good. I'd rather eat the trotters of a free-range rare-breed pig than the tenderloin of an industrially farmed one. You should too.
The return of the butcher
Food chains have become so long that we’ve ended up with a meaty version of Chinese whispers. Have a read of this post by Tim Wilson from butcher The Ginger Pig. See how he knows every person in the chain personally: farmer, abattoir, shop. That’s as short a food chain as you can get.
My tips for responsible meat eating
Here then are the guidelines I try and follow.
- Buy British.
- Use your local butcher.
- Buy free-range.
- Eat less beef, and try pork and lamb instead.
- Save money by buying ‘forgotten cuts’ and lesser-known bits.
- Buy in bulk and use wisely (whole chicken for example)
- Enjoy meat, but don’t eat it all the time, and don’t waste it!
Because let’s face it, we're just not going to give up meat overnight are we? It's just too bloody tasty – which is just how I like it.
What do you think? Before you tell us in the Comments box below, read Charlotte Morgan's counter article Vegetarianism is the future.
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