“Share your favourite recipe. Talk about the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted. Or maybe share you fave restaurant experience. Lets talking about food!”
Whilst I was tempted to use this opportunity to share a recipe or restaurant recommendation, as I’ve been meaning to write about the way I eat for, like, ever, I thought I really ought to do just that! I touched on this yesterday in my Go Green post, but today I’m going to tell you all about my being (a rather ponsey sounding) Ethicurean.
I’ve always loved my food. I like to eat lots, eat well and then eat more. I used to be fussy as a child but my Mum did spoil me with really good home cooking (her roast dinners and pies are to die for!) but once I moved away from home I got to being more adventurous and now there’s hardly any type of food I won’t eat. If any. And Marmite isn’t a food by the way.
And whilst I toyed with the idea of vegetarianism as a teen, I’ve always happily enjoyed eating meat and animal products. Until about five years ago.
It was a TV show that changed my views on how I ate. Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners on Channel Four, and the associated Chicken Out campaign spearheaded by the marvelous Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, offered an insight into the terrible standards in British chicken farming, and it alarmed me horribly. I very quickly decided that I would only eat free range chicken and free range eggs, as well as avoiding foods with eggs in (later it would become easier to find pasta which uses free range eggs, and when Hellman’s announced all their mayo was going to solely use free range eggs I think I cheered!). I was horrified how chickens were being treated, to get their eggs and to breed for their meat, and I just couldn’t stomach a meal that supported or encouraged that.
The following year there appeared another programme. Jamie was this time going to ‘Save our Bacon’ and in his TV show (also featuring the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) he revealed the desperately poor state of pig farming. I was beyond horrified this time. I remember crying and vowing never to eat meat again. I remember the cries and shrieks of pigs being pushed around between vile metal bars, and wondering how any person could do such a thing.
I very quickly went off my food entirely, and gave up meat altogether for a few months. I felt responsible for those poor suffering animals, and ashamed that I had supported an industry that could allow such abhorrent behaviour.
Once I’d had time to absorb all this though, I really did come to the decision that as a human being and born omnivore, I would like to try at eating meat again, and should be able to if I was mindful. Whilst the farming that I’d seen in the programmes disgusted me to the core, I knew that there were farms out there who care about their animals, and I wanted to support them. And at the end of the day, if we were all vegan there would be massive economic ramifications, not to mention a lack of lovely fields filled with sheep and cows and whatnot!
I knew though that if I was going to go back to eating animal products, that I had to be as sure as I possibly could be that I wasn’t eating any of those poorly treated animals. That meant an holistic approach…not just eating whatever free range meat I could find, but also being mindful of all the other animal products hiding in all manner of foods.
I personally don’t see the point in vegetarianism for this reason, unless you’re just veggie because you don’t *like* meat of course! I find pescetarianism even more baffling, not to mention people who call themselves vegetarian and eat fish! I know I won’t make any friends by being this opinionated, but I do feel very strongly about this….if you won’t eat meat because of the impact on animals and their environment, why will you eat animal products (I have known SO many veggies who will eat cheese with rennet, Worcestershire sauce, and sweets containing gelatin!!) that have probably come from just as bad a process of welfare, if not worse?! Loads of things contain animal products, and although it’s a bit of a minefield, I have certainly been able to adapt very well to this mantra.
The biggest impact it’s had is on the amount of meat I eat. Whilst I do believe humans should eat meat, I don’t believe we need it with every meal! A common excuse I hear for not eating more welfare conscious meat is ‘I can’t afford it.’ My simple answer is ‘eat less meat then’. I manage just fine on one or two meat meals a week (although sometimes less) and so having cut my meat bill in half, I can afford to spend twice as much on the meat I do buy. Simple! There are so many healthy, easy, quick and yummy dishes to make without using meat, so I just don’t buy that particular excuse!
Another big thing is eating out. Whilst ten years or so ago it was quite normal to be vegetarian, I rather feel that it’s gone out of fashion of late! I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve gone somewhere to eat out and been offered only one very poor vegetarian ‘choice’ (it’s not a choice if there’s only one!!). And often the veggie dishes are totally bland, not worth the money and incongruous with the rest of the menu…I feel like there ought to be a vegetarian and vegan module at catering college as most chefs clearly lack in imagination for such dishes!
And whilst you’d expect by now that lots of restaurants would have taken on board a free range and/or organic animal product policy, even the likes of Jamie Oliver himself seem reluctant to commit! (NB. I can find no evidence that Jamie’s Italian restaurants for example serve free range meat….I have contacted them though to check and will update when I get a response!)
The result of this is that we don’t often eat out, which is a shame as we’d like to support our local restaurants, but when my choices are limited so pitifully and I’m asked to subsidise meat eaters by paying the same for my curry with no meat in it as someone’s exact same curry but packed with lamb, I’m afraid I’d just rather eat at home!
Another thing that’s been tricky is actually knowing when a product meets my decided standards. I’ve spent hours researching all the criteria that give a product free range or organic status, and whilst I can rest relatively easy if something is marked as such, there are so many other confusing labels that it becomes a real pain! Most of our friends and family know that we eat this way, but unfortunately they are very often taken in by the sneaky marketing the supermarkets have come up with to make people feel better about buying certain things, whilst still remaining competitively priced.
I am often told (when I ask politely in a restaurant if the dish is free range and/or organic) ‘yes, it’s British’. ‘Aaaand???’ I’ll say….that’s just where it comes from!!! Unfortunately ’British’ doesn’t mean the same as free range or organic…and neither does ‘Freedom Foods’, ‘RSPCA Monitored’, ‘Red Tractor’, ‘Outdoor Bred’ or ‘Outdoor Reared’. And whilst Waitrose and Sainsburys are fairly good, just buying any meat from them doesn’t mean it’s free range either! I’m often unsure as to whether I’m more cross with people for being sucked in by these labels (if it was Organic, don’t you just think they’d call it that rather than coming up with a new name for it?!) or with the people who make them up to try and fool us. Either way, I would certainly welcome some legislation to stop this misleading rubbish!
Probably the best impact this has had on me though is my health. Too much meat isn’t good for you, and ensuring you have a well balanced diet (which I’m now more mindful of) is the best anyone can really be expected to do for themselves. Because I have to think about all animal products, I don’t eat a lot of processed food because I can’t be sure where the animal products in them come from, and we now eat organic dairy products to have the best chance of supporting the right kind of farming in that respect (it’s not all about meat!).
I now appreciate where all my food comes from, I’m knowledgeable about it and I care.
Now you’re either thinking ‘what a goody bloody two shoes’ about here, or ‘she can’t possibly stick to that!’ And you’re possibly right on either count….I do feel a bit smug that I put so much thought into my food, especially because I have given up things that I really love to eat (if someone opened an all free range KFC tomorrow I would eat nothing else for a month…don’t judge me!)….and I don’t want to mislead anyone by claiming that I am 100% virtuous. I do slip up from time to time, eating sweets offered to me without checking what’s in them, and allowing myself a little leeway when on holiday for example. I’m no Saint, but I do try bally hard!
I hope I’ve not come across as too aggressive in this…I’m aware this is not my usual happy post about bunting or glittery shoes…but I do feel extremely passionately about animal welfare and I’ve been very glad to have this push to finally get me to talk about it!
Now, at risk of tipping over the aggressive line, I’m going to share a video that I personally think it’s important for anyone who eats non-free range meat to watch, in order to understand where their food can come from. I can appreciate that this is very extreme and that it will more than likely upset people, but I just feel that one shouldn’t eat something they don’t know the possible origins of. Needless to say, this comes with a personal warning and I’d ask anyone particularly sensitive or anyone vegan not to watch it. I’m not sharing this because I want to upset anyone or preach to them. That said, I think it’s jolly important that such reports are made and that people are aware: