Ethical meat

It’s only a suggestion; but I reckon, if you’re a vegetarian, look away now. Because not only is this diatribe about meat, it’s also about the killing of animals. It’s not a subject most people like talking about and, as a result, is seldom given thought by the vast majority of us. Because . . . well, we don’t like to, do we? But maybe we should.

Now, if you watch the telly a bit, and most of us do, you’ll have seen much talk in recent times about how animals that are bred and reared to be eaten, are treated during their growing time on this planet. Chefs Hugh, Jamie and Gordon have all done their bit by daring to enlighten the meat-consuming public of their responsibilities. And, despite having concurrent motives involving the successful amassing of wealth, they really should be applauded for their efforts because the intensive rearing of animals for food is something most of us have known little about.

It’s something I feel very strongly about. It’s why we, at Oldfields as a restaurant company, try to source as much of our meat as we can from non-intensive producers. It’s why I, as an individual, decided to rear some of my own pigs and sheep in a non-intensive way so that I could begin to understand the issues and problems and costs associated with the whole thing. It also enabled me to understand some of the foreign language that I thought farmers talked. It’s why now, I’m bilingual.

But that’s the breeding and rearing bit. Because then comes the part that few talk or know about. And, due to government legislation driving our local practitioners out of the market, most abattoirs are large, factory affairs where the public glean even less knowledge than they would from the small slaughterhouse around the back of the local butchers. Gone are the days that the chap selling you the Sunday joint could tell you about it’s entire history from birth to counter display.

But if it’s important that our animals are reared responsibly, surely it’s just as important that they’re despatched just as thoughtfully? I think it’s important that it’s done right. The professionals in the bigger places might think I’m soft; that I don’t understand the bigger picture and the pressures on business, but I’m not so sure.

I know it may, nay does, ultimately cost more. I know that in these challenging times we need things to be as cheap as possible. But it’s that word “cheap” that sits so uncomfortably with me when considering the lives of other creatures; creatures over which we sit as arbiters of life and, inevitably, death.

There are many reasons as to why this process should be as thoughtful as possible; not least that the calmer and quicker an animal meets its demise, the better the resultant meat.

But surely the bigger issue is that we, the superior animal at the top of the food chain (at least until the aliens arrive), are able to decide how those other animals spend their time alive and have their lives ended at our behest. Because, don’t forget, we decide that they are going to exist in the first place. So it’s entirely down to us as to how they live, and ultimately die.

So that brings me to a conversation I had with a lovely lady called Sue at Simpson’s the butchers in Cockfield, County Durham. Sue has recently been involved with the reopening of the traditional yet very caring and professional abattoir behind this very traditional butcher’s shop. So passionate and caring is she about the whole operation that she said, without any forethought or planning that, if she were to need a major operation, she’d rather have it done at the back of Joe Simpson’s butcher’s shop than in a hospital!

And if you’re going to eat meat, and if you care about how it’s been treated before it’s reached your plate, could you ask for a better endorsement that that?

Originally posted June 2010

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