Friday 16 April 2010

One man's meat...

Is it ever ok to eat meat? I do think it is ok, if we never allow ourselves to stray into supporting intensive farming. I won’t repeat the arguments against eating meat – that is a matter for individuals to decide. For those of us who do want to eat meat, there is some encouraging news in today’s EDP. There’s a piece in the business section – farming – about opening a new abattoir in Eye, just 25 miles from Norwich. You might not think it’s good news, but it is. It’s returning to small-scale local production.

It’s all part of reversing the dreadful trends shown in Food Inc, which revealed that across the whole of the United States there are only nineteen slaughterhouses. One of the worst of many horrific scenes in that film was the handling of pigs – so distressing that I’m not even going to attempt to describe it. 2000 pigs slaughtered every hour in the largest slaughterhouse in America, probably the world.

If we are going to eat meat, we have to demand decent treatment for livestock. Well, I do, anyway – so I ask a lot of searching questions about how far animals have travelled to slaughter and how they were reared. All of Tesco’s meat, as far as I know, is slaughtered in a central processing plant in the Midlands. Waitrose has regional plants, but not very many. Local independent butchers might – or might not – use local facilities, depending on whether they buy the meat in from a mass producer or deal direct with farmers.

When I was growing up, the local butchers in our Essex village had a slaughterhouse attached to the shop; they would slaughter a couple of cows or pigs at a time and the animals never knew a thing. They had travelled no more than a mile or two from their farm. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes exactly the same sort of procedure in his excellent River Cottage Meat Book. I think this is the honest way to go on: insist on compassionate treatment all the way along, which includes a normal outdoor life and a stress-free end; then treat the meat with respect too, wasting none of it.

So, for those of us who do want to carry on eating meat (you too, John!) ask some probing questions. Good butchers locally will give you the right answer. Choose native breeds of animal. (The longhorn cattle in my photo are a hardy native breed that spends all of its time outside. They take longer to mature than intensively reared animals fed on goodness knows what, so they are relatively expensive.) Be moderate in how much meat you buy and be willing to buy the cheaper cuts for stews rather than steaks from time to time. Pay a fair price for high quality. And after that, when you get it home, make the most of it. Everything but the squeak…

Photo: Longhorn cattle and other native breeds in Norwich livestock market


  1. Dear Jane,

    As you say deciding to eat meat or not is for each individual to decide. However if we focus on personal consumption of local food we do not make decisions based on what we know about The Industrial Food System and how that impacts the global environment.

    Also with all animals, including these lovely Longhorn cattle, you need to consider what they are fed on, especially in the winter (e.g. rainforest soya, palm oil, GM corn) and how much space, water and energy that takes.

    With best wishes,


  2. Many of the excesses of the contemporary western diet are only possible because of mechanized farming. In medieval times, meat and sugar were luxury items for the average person but meat was an important part of the diet in northern climates where little vegetable produce was available at this time of year. Our close relatives the Chimpanzees eat a small amount of meat ( and it likely that humans have always eaten some meat. So it seems reasonable to me to occasionaly eat meat but clearly we need to ensure that the animals are well treated and are fed on locally produced food.