Love meat tender

Eating less enhances animal welfare

by Lydia Brownlow

It’s a dog’s life

I like to write at the kitchen table first thing in the morning, usually with a cat on my lap and the dogs at my feet. I’d prefer to start working straight away as there is always a deadline looming and, as usual, everything’s been left to the last minute. But first of all there’s the good morning routine with the pets, involving lots of back scratching and “Yes, you are the most beautiful dog in the world.” Then I feed them and repeat the process with the only slightly more patient cat. I make sure their bed is in prime position in front of the Aga as I wait for the kettle to boil, and only then can I sit down to work. Our pets are an intrinsic part of our family life. When the children ring from uni their first question is “How are the dogs?”

We are a nation of animal lovers. Britain was the first country in the world to start a welfare charity for animals back in 1824, when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded (the Royal came later). Now, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, there are almost 24 million cats and dogs that have a loving place in the country’s homes, and almost one in two households is accompanied by a furry, scaly, or feathered friend. So why, when it comes to food and especially meat products, does this animal obsessed nation’s values change so dramatically?

What we spend

According to a poll by Vox, the British are bumping along near the bottom of the global chart of household expenditure on food. We spend 8 per cent, while the French and the Italians are way ahead spending 13 and 14 per cent respectively. This surprised me as – with all my family at home over lockdown – I make regular shopping trips for food and have been appalled at how much I spend. When handed the bill by the cashier, I’ve felt the need for smelling salts, a chair and a glass of water to revive me. So, I’ve started paying more attention to price. What shocked me most was the range in meat prices. A chicken started at £3.17 while a “free range organic bird” was £13, and a loin of pork went from £7.97 for a piece of British meat to £16.66 for a Duchy free-range organic loin. It’s no wonder people go for the cheaper cut.

Saving Wilbur

I adored Charlotte’s Web as a child, to the point where I overcame my fear of spiders, because who wouldn’t want a best friend like Charlotte? When Wilbur’s in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte spins messages in her web praising him as “SOME PIG” and “TERRIFIC” in order to persuade the farmer to let him live. My youngest child still dreams of owning her very own Wilbur. So you can imagine how I felt in March when I read articles damning the appalling conditions in which we keep intensively reared pigs. Without going into too much detail, they described and showed pictures of sows in “farrowing crates” – metal and concrete cages, just a few inches longer and wider than the sow herself. She cannot step forwards or backwards, or even turn around for the duration of her restraint, which can last months. Her new-born piglets are forced to suckle from a small area known as a “creep”. I, for one, am going to have to change what I cook after reading about these inhumane conditions, knowing pigs are as intelligent (if not more so) than your average three-year-old child.

Peter Greig from Pipers Farm was quoted as saying, “The myth that industrial farming is the only way to feed the population is absolute nonsense.” He then explained his father was one of the pioneers of industrial farming, but that he and his wife Henri turned their back on that system over twenty years ago when they were standing in a shed of 7,000 chickens and realised they wouldn’t be willing to feed
any of them to their children.

So, when buying meat look out for Soil Association or RSPCA-assured labels, or ask your butcher how it’s been reared. Surely we want happy pigs, fed on a good mixed diet, with access to the great outdoors? As Lizzie Riveria of the Independent put it: “Of course, higher welfare brands are more expensive and this is a big barrier for financially stretched consumers who would otherwise be willing to buy better meat.” The question to ask is, “What’s the true cost of that bacon?” If the truth about farming practices were to be made clear, my guess is the advice to eat meat less often, so we can afford better quality stuff, wouldn’t seem unreasonable.

It would seem necessary. How to have your bacon, chicken, beef and eat less of it

A little can go a long way. Marinade strips of pork, beef or chicken breast in soy sauce, honey, crushed garlic and ginger. Stir fry with lots of vegetables and serve with steamed rice or noodles. When making Bolognese, pad it out with plenty of finely-diced onions, mushrooms, peppers, courgettes, or celery. Once you have stripped a chicken carcass of the last juicy pieces, place the bones in a large pan with an onion halved, a carrot and a celery stick. Cover with cold water and then bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for one to two hours. Then leave to cool and strain reserving the stock. This can then be used as a base for soup, risotto, or to enrich a stew. To make sausages go further, slice and fry until golden brown, combine with equal amounts of cold mashed potatoes and cooked greens, season well and tip into the sausage pan, squash the mixture down and cook till the bottom is browned and crisp. Even better
is topping it with a fried egg.

Lydia Brownlow was a cookery editor at Good Housekeeping Magazine and a contributor to The Daily Beast. Latterly she has been inspiring children to cook. More info at lydiabrownlow.com

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