Sunday, 18 October 2015

A living product

I love meat. Actually, I'm a big fan of food altogether and find cooking and eating to be two of life's greatest pleasures, but for me a good piece of meat is food nirvana.
Lately this has started to bother me though, and it's the realisation of what the meat industry has become that is causing me to reconsider my options.
Now I'm not stupid, and I'm under no illusions as to where meat comes from. I don't even have a problem with that in itself, but what is bothering me is the sheer scale of the operation that exists in order to put Ermintrude in a nicely presented package on the shelf in Sainsbury's and Shaun The Sheep on a big rotating skewer in the window of 'Pisshead's Last-Stop Kebab Emporium'.

The wife was vegetarian when we met and then I gradually turned her to the dark side, but there was something she always said that very much rings true - Why grow crops to feed animals for us to eat, when we can just eat the crops ourselves?
It wasn't that many decades ago that meat was a rare treat, so how is it that there is now such a glut of it that huge amounts of the stuff ends up in land-fill because it hasn't been sold before its best before date?
It's us. It's our fault. We are the ones making the demands for such phenomenal quantities of meat, and with any area of consumer demand there will always be a business rubbing its hands together with glee, seeing nothing beyond the prospect of an enormous pile of money.

You don't need to watch too many films of slaughterhouse operations to be convinced that this is not something you really want to be party to. I'm talking here about real films, rather than the sanitised and polished things put out by the media to keep us appeased, but even on TV there's occasionally a slip-up that could easily be missed. One of these occurred the other day when a farmer referred to his flocks of sheep as 'our product'.
I'm sorry? Since when did an animal lose so much dignity that it became a 'product'.
I've shot and butchered animals to eat, and every time I've encountered some level of guilt. You might feel daft if you catch yourself apologising to a pigeon as you cut the oh-so-tasty breast meat from its still-warm carcass, but it's still an important reminder that you've taken a life - even if it is a seemingly insignificant one that's been annoying the hell out of you all morning.
So how detached can someone be to call an animal a product?

The question is, how to change? It shouldn't really be that difficult - we often eat meals without meat anyway, so although going cold turkey (hah!) might be a bit of a shock to the system, gradually reducing the amounts over a period of weeks ought to be do-able. It's just a habit after all.
The hardest thing to stop eating will be bacon because, as we all know, bacon is the ultimate cure for vegetarianism. Lamb may be very tasty but the texture can be a bit hit and miss and it's very expensive for what you get so that's the easiest to quit.
Beef will be more tricky because it's hard to make a really good lasagne with anything else, but I'll give it a try. Pork may come from the same animal as bacon but it doesn't have quite so much appeal, although such associated things as ham, sausages, and Spam would be sorely missed.
Then we come to poultry and fish which is often where the boundaries become a little blurred.
Perhaps the confusion exists because chickens are essentially mobile vegetables, and if I had a big enough garden I'd be quite happy to have them running around laying eggs and making more chickens so that I could pick one out for Sunday dinner and wring its neck.
It seems rather more acceptable than buying one from the supermarket that has been crammed into a big warehouse with no natural light and a diet of hormone-enhanced grain to ensure its pitiful life is as short as possible before it's despatched on a production line to end up being sold for £2.50.
Fish is difficult one. I really like fish, but I'm also well aware that our oceans are being so overfished that it won't be long before there's nothing left and the whole marine ecosystem goes tits-up.
On the other hand, surely farmed freshwater trout can stay on the menu because if I can't stick one of those in the oven wrapped in foil with lemon and dill, then what's the point of it all?

It could be said that giving up meat is a choice, not a necessity, and that's certainly true. There are things we might give up because they don't do us any good, like alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, or those amazing butterscotch and pecan yum yums from Waitrose, but unless we eat excessive quantities of it, surely meat doesn't do us any harm?
Personally I think rather than eliminating meat completely, I'd prefer to eat less but only buy what has been ethically produced. Meat from an animal that has had a decent life running around a field (apart from the fish of course) and eating natural food before being dealt with humanely.
As we all know, meat reared in this manner is way more expensive than supermarket stuff, but I'm quite happy to revert to the days when meat was an occasional treat and pay for the privilege.
There's plenty of really tasty vegetarian food to be had, but if I'm quite honest with myself I don't think I could ever become completely vegetarian. What I can do is make more ethical choices and not support the Frankenstein's monster that the wholesale meat industry has become.

I'm off to do the weekly grocery shopping shortly, and although meat will be a bit thin on the ground, I am getting unusually excited about today's trip down the vegetable aisles because it's pumpkin season, and if there's one thing I do know, it's that a good old homemade pumpkin pie is a thing of beauty.