Sheep – our most ethically farmed meat?

Sheep – lamb, hogget and mutton is our most ethically farmed meat. The UK sheep industry might be our last defence against the marching army that is factory farming. Sheep is the least intensively raised farm animal. 99% of sheep remain pasture feed and free range. Hence you don’t see ‘Free range’ on labels.

We typically refer to sheep meat as lamb as this is the most commonly consumed age, around 85%. The difference is the age the animal is slaughtered.

  • Lamb is less than 12 months old, (typically 6-8 mths, spring lamb 3 mths)
  • Hogget is 12-24 mths old / 1-2 yrs
  • Mutton is over 24 mths old – 2yrs +

The UK sheep industry also gets the environmental thumbs up, not just for zero airmiles and low carbon footprint but also for the efficient meat production. Sheep are ruminants, they have a digestion system that means they can eat food (grass) that humans can’t, making them an efficient source of meat. Conversely, pigs and chickens eat food that could otherwise be fed to humans. Think world hunger…

*cows are also ruminants but can only be considered  an efficient source of meat or dairy in an organic, pasture fed system. Intensively farmed cows are fed grain that could otherwise be fed to humans.

Sheep are perfectly designed to live in the UK, our climate and our landscape. Sheep can also live in our highlands, mountains, moorlands and areas that we wouldn’t otherwise farm.

Compared with other meats, the way sheep are raised and the age of slaughter, lamb it is a more ethical choice of meat, but what I really want to highlight is hogget and mutton. Hogget and young mutton (2yrs) is far superior to lamb in my view, it has all the tenderness and much more flavour.

We favour older mutton, 4+ yrs. As ethical meat choices go it is the gold standard. The animal has had a longer and far better life quality than 99.9% of farm animals and the meat is amazing for texture and taste. Slow cooked as a roast, chops with BBQ sauce, a winter stew, mutton is a winner every time. For more info visit http://www.muttonrenaissance.org.uk

‘Now suppose, my pet, that we were married, and you were going to buy a shoulder of mutton for dinner  would you know where to buy it?’ Charles Dickens (1812-1870) David Copperfield. Mutton used to be common place, so what happened? Wool used to be more valuable that meat so keeping a sheep for multiple seasons for their wool was the priority and the mutton was a by product. With the introduction of man made fibres in the 1960’s the price of wool plummeted meaning that it became more cost effective to farm lamb, giving the financial return as quickly to the farmer as possible. Today we need to recognise the true value of hogget and mutton, increase the demand and restore the financial balance allowing more farmers to produce it.

Where can you buy mutton? Mutton cuts often come from ewes coming out of service after their lamb production drops off. This meat is good for stews and curries but probably not for a roast. I would recommended buying mutton directly from a farm or specialist butchery outlet, there are many online options, they should be able to advise on the age and type of mutton. As with all meat there are varying degrees of quality. I will write a post dedicated to sourcing the best hogget and mutton.

Parting thoughts. I emphasis the UK sheep industry, check the label and buy British – We import a huge amount of lamb from New Zealand and other countries. Which is crazy if you think about it!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Support UK reared Rose veal

*Please read this carefully. The distinction is ROSE veal raised in the UK only.

‘Veal’ is a dirty work in the UK and so it should be if it were ‘white’ or ‘milk-fed’ veal. The 80’s campaigns against the cruel practice of keeping calves in tiny crates and feeding them low iron diets (causing them huge digestive issues) all for the purpose of keeping their meat pale were so successful that the UK as a nation doesn’t generally eat veal. Veal is defined as meat under 12 mths.

Why is that a problem? The diary industry creates a byproduct of unwanted bull (male) calves. The majority are either shot shortly after birth or exported to Europe and raised for white veal in intensive farmed system with very poor welfare standards. The rest of the EU seems quite happy to nosh into white veal. In fact it is very popular in the Netherlands, France, Italy, Poland etc.

UK reared Rose veal is however a totally different product, calves don’t travel long distances to EU destinations, they are fed a normal diet and kept on straw bed in small groups. In isolation rose veal would not be high on my list of meat choices, but in comparison to the fate of the calf and if you are a consumer of dairy it is more ethical to eat UK reared rose veal than not. Sainsbury’s, M&S and I am sure others stock rose veal and it is supported by RSPCA and CIWF.

Note ** UK exports of calves to the Netherlands is currently on hold due to threats of TB. This could change in the near future and calves are still being exported via Northern Ireland.

Want to learn more see https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/cows/veal-calves 

SaveSave

Why don’t we love pigs?

We are a nation of animal lovers. Dogs are a mans best friend. A clip of a fox on a trampoline gets 500,000 FB likes, so where did it go so wrong for pigs?

Pigs can often outsmart dogs and are on about the same intellectual level as our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, according to a new paper. The research project, described in a paper published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8sx4s79c aims to put a face on animals that are traditionally just viewed as sources of meat.

“We have shown that pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans,” neuroscientist Lori Marino of Emory University and The Nonhuman Rights Project said in a press release. “There is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them.”

They found that pigs:

  1. Have excellent long-term memories
  2. Are excellent with mazes and other tests requiring location of objects
  3. Can comprehend a simple symbolic language and can learn complex combinations of symbols for actions and objects
  4. Love to play and engage in mock fighting with each other, similar to play in dogs and other mammals
  5. live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and learn from one another
  6. Cooperate with one another
  7. Can manipulate a joystick to move an on-screen cursor, a capacity they share with chimpanzees
  8. Can use a mirror to find hidden food
  9. Exhibit a form of empathy when witnessing the same emotion in another individual

No animal deserves to be treated inhumanely but considering the way pigs are treated with respect to their mental capacity, it seems inconceivable that we allow this to happen. Pigs, specifically breeding sows take my number one spot for the most abused animal in factory farming systems (there are close contenders). What they endure would be considered mental and physical torture were it applied to humans. I would challenge any person with even a shred of empathy to learn how pigs are treated and see this any other way. You are welcome to learn more via: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/pigs/pig-welfare or simply make the change to buy ethically raised pork. See the Compassion (CIWF) buying guide https://www.ciwf.org.uk/your-food/meat-poultry/pork-and-bacon

The key message is to buy pork with extreme caution. A lot of pork is intensively farmed, 60%+ in the UK and higher in the EU. Read the labels, look for organic, free range, outdoor bred or reared. Buy UK pork – UK laws are tighter and better regulated than the EU.

I will also publish posts with ideas to replace pork products as I know a bacon sandwich is hard to give up!

P.S. Remember pork means – Pork and all pork products (bacon, sausages, ham, salami etc.)

Oink Oink!! The Ethical Omnivore

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Good steak should never be chewy!!

One of the best dishes going is Steak and chips. It is a treat we eat very occasionally, one of my favourites and something I am very passionate about. It breaks my heart to see people sawing away at meat, chewing to the point they wear their teeth down. Hearing comments about steak being tough or tasteless. It should never be that way. Sadly we buy steak (from the supermarket?) over and over again and put up with this. People don’t realise what we are missing out on. As part of my quest to only eat the best quality meats I decided to try to find out why good steak was so hard to find.

So what’s the difference? Well as far as I have gleaned there are two main issues;

  1. Not all beef is from cattle breed to produce quality meat. A lot of beef is a byproduct of the dairy industry (either young male dairy calves or culled ex service dairy cows), breeds that have been developed for high milk yields but not for their meat quality.
  2. As with a lot of modern farming the faster and bigger they can grow it the cheaper they can make it whilst keeping the profit. Farmers are under pressure to fatten cattle and get them to slaughter as quickly as possible. Meaning the cattle are taken off pasture, keep in barns, feed grain and slaughter before the meat is mature. As young as 9 mths but typically 12 mths (http://www.fwi.co.uk/livestock/slaughtering-beef-animals-at-12-months-is-most-profitable.htm)

The best meat comes from cattle that is a specific meat breed e.g. Angus, English Longhorn, Dexter, Sussex Red, has been naturally raised and slow grown. Pasture feed, ideally organic and allowed to mature at a natural rate. I understand this to be around 2+ years but I’ve eaten 8 yrs old beef and it was truly amazing.

The next element that is essential is how long the meat is hung for. Even good meat that is not well hung can loose quality. But hanging meat costs money, the meat loses weight as it drys, extra storage costs and time passes. It is ironic that the industry boasts ’21 days hung’ as a selling feature, when that is the industry standard and in my view inadequate. Look for 30+ days hung, you will notice the difference.

And finally the cooking. Cook an average piece of meat correctly and it might pass as a meal, cook a great piece of steak correctly and you make an exceptional meal. How to cook great steak – First I ensure the meat is at room temperature (take it out of the fridge hours in advance – make sure the dog can’t reach it!), then oil the meat and season with salt. Great the pan really hot, I used a cast iron skillet, then add the steak, (don’t over fill the pan otherwise you will loose temperature, get moisture and there is a risk of stewing the meat.) Let the meat do it’s thing and get well browned (known as sealing) before you turn it over. There is a great tick I use to determine how well cooked the meat is without cutting into it, especially important for thick steaks. On the same hand touch a finger to your thumb (just so the tips touch) don’t squeeze, just connect. The fat part of your thumb (even thin people have them) is the same consistency as the different types of cooked steak. First finger = rare, second = mid rare, third = medium, and forth = well. Gently press your thumb and then press the meat (with a knife or fork) you’ll see what I mean. I always cook meat a like less than I want it then take it off the heat and let if rest in the pan e.g. 10 mins. It will carry on cooking which is why I undercook it slightly. I slice the meat and serve in the middle to people to pick/fight over – crispy fries, creamed spinach, mushrooms, onions, salad (if you want green), horseradish or creamy Bernaise – Yummy!

So I know you are all desperate to talk about cost. It sounds so expensive, how can organic meat raised for 2+yrs, hung for 5 weeks be affordable. Why here’s is the great news, because it is a great steak you don’t need sirloin or fillet, you can go for rump, skirt, feather steak it is all good. Also there is no waste as there is not gristle to cut off. We go for rump every time as it is better than any shop bought fillet, sirloin, ribeye I have tested. We buy directly from the farmer which also means we get maximum value. Also with reduced meat consumption the concept is you buy less but better quality meat. See https://www.longhornbeef.co.uk/our-beef as an example, the meat is the same price as supermarket finest meat, but this really is the finest!

SaveSave

Cows eat grass?

Yes they did, but not anymore! Cows are sadly now also part of the factory farming machine. Dairy cows and meat cows are increasingly being intensively farmed with little or no access to grazing. They don’t leave the shed, they stand on concrete, they sleep on sand and they have a grain fed diet.

Cows are ruminants, they are designed to eat grass. It is no brainer, we can’t eat grass, they can and they turn it into food = win/win.

It was until someone decided it would be ‘better’ to put them in sheds and feed them grain. Grain that humans could eat, grain that is grown miles away and imported, grain that might be GMO, grain that takes more water, energy and land to grow than grass and leaves cattle stood in dry mud or concrete pens for the whole of their lives. You don’t have to be an academic to work out that it makes no sense.

Plus the fact that meat and dairy from cows that eat grass is healthier and it tastes better:

  • Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef.
  • Omega 3s in beef that feed on grass is 7% of the total fat content, compared to 1% in grain-only fed beef.
  • Grass-fed beef is loaded with other natural minerals and vitamins, plus it’s a great source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) a fat that reduces the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a number of immune disorders.
  • Grass-fed beef has the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats (3:1.)
  • Cows on a diet of fresh grass produce milk with five times as much of an unsaturated fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than do cows fed processed grains. CLAs can protect the heart, and help in weight loss.
  • And it tastes better!

As an Ethical omnivore what can you do?

Meat: Some products are labelled ‘Grass fed’ but most aren’t. Buying organic beef is a guarantee (UK) that the cow has been pasture grazed. Avoid buying non labelled, cheap or foreign meat. Ask the retailers if the beef or dairy you are buying is grass fed. Best of all buy directly from the farm (we buy online organic beef and it the same price as supermarket beef!) or a reputable butcher and ask them the question. How is this meat raised. Found out more in posts about beef.

Milk and dairy: Currently labelling on milk doesn’t let you know if your dairy cow was on pasture or not. The only way to guarantee this is to buy organic dairy (UK). Under organic standards cows has to have access to grazing. Some retailers are also making a stance and deserve our support. See:

http://www.compassioninfoodbusiness.com/award-winners/search/?org=&sector=&country=&award=Good+Dairy+Award

Also be prepared to pay a bit more for your dairy, think value rather than cost. It is pennies in the grand scheme of things. With price pressures in the industry it is getting worse, USA style ‘mega’ dairies are spreading. See:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-controversial-mega-dairies-that-alarm-campaigners-and-divide-a-struggling-sector-of-british-a6744511.html

indoor-cows-1cows-grazingIndoor or outdoors? – you have a choice when you buy your meat or dairy.

The Ethical omnivore.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave