I have a problem, and this is it: I love meat and dairy. I love rare steak, Cumberland sausages and bacon. I regularly crave a good roast chicken and furthermore, I love buttery potatoes and cheesy pasta bake. Recently, I’ve been eating a lot more fish, meat substitutes and vegetables in this new coupled-up lifestyle of mine. My partner is all for vegetarianism, not being that much of a carnivore anyway, and I am happy to go along with this. After all, with a good palate and a handy recipe book vegetables can be filling, nutritious and exciting. However, if she does try to take my sausages away I may have to beat this idea out of her with a parsnip.
I have an overactive conscience as well, and after some research into the matter I have concluded that it isn’t acceptable, from my moral standpoint, to eat something that has suffered needlessly for its short, miserable life so that it can end up on my plate. I don’t enjoy the kind of cheese made from the sore infected udders of perpetually pregnant, drugged-up dairy cows. I fin d that my roast chicken tastes worse when it’s been cooped up with 2000 others, never seeing daylight and fed on God-knows-what. I also find it unnerving to say the least that pigs have over 40 different ‘words’ that a human can learn and successfully speak to them with. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but it doesn’t sit well in my stomach.
What’s the solution? Go vegan? I don’t have the willpower to eat tofu and mushrooms for the rest of my short life. I believe (in fact, I know) that there is another way to eat meat and dairy ethically. It’s called the LOAF system. If you feel the same way as I do about the welfare of the animals who kindly give their lives for our nourishment and enjoyment, please read on.
L stands for Local. This is more of an environmental issue than an animal welfare one, as buying locally ensures that less ‘food miles’ go into your dinner. This means less pollution, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a good thing. There are many good directories of local produce online, but I suggest BigBarn. You can search for any kind of food producer in your area with customer ratings and contact details all there. A lot of producers sell directly via this website, doing the leg work for you. There is even a symbol to indicate producers that are cheaper than the supermarket. You’d be surprised how many there are!
If you are the hunter-forager type with a bit of spare time, I highly recommend visiting that local butcher or deli you’ve always driven past on your way to the supermarket. The food will be better for you and for local producers. You will benefit from their time and expertise, discovering new cuts of meat and how to prepare them, often guaranteeing not only cheaper but also better quality meat. In short, you will know where it comes from, unlike that 50p chicken kiev at Iceland. Small, local food shops are businesses that suffer in a recession, so please give Dave the butcher your business; Tesco won’t miss it.
Another twist on the ‘Local’ theme is keeping your own chickens if you have some space. This website gives you all you need to get started. It’s a great way to get fresh eggs every day for a start, and you and any children you may have can learn a lot about caring for animals. They make amusing pets and are a wonderful source of protein-rich food; what’s not to like?
O stands for Organic. Now, you may be sick of this word- perhaps it’s a marketing gimmick and not to be trusted. On the contrary, organic food is not only free of chemicals and drugs, it is often free of animal cruelty. Any food bearing the logo of the Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers or The Organic Food Federation has passed, and continues to be examined on, a strict set of standards on animal welfare, chemical use and sustainability. For example, a dairy cow producing milk for a certified-organic product weans her calves, feeds and breeds as naturally as possible and lives a spacious, mostly outdoor life with her herd, minimising stress and disease. Non-organic cows are injected routinely with antibiotics, calves are housed separately and many male calves are killed at birth as surplus to requirements. The dairy cow is typically forced to produce an incredibly high yield under horrible conditions. Organic standards are striving to change that.
Professional bodies like The Soil Association realise that stress makes animals ill. They try to work with the earth and the animal’s life-cycle as much as possible, not forcing high milk yields or cramping animals together to save space. This may be harder to achieve and may cost more, but the differences for the environment and for the animal can’t be underestimated. It takes two years on average for a dairy farm to go organic but the cows are certainly happier, as The Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative explains.
If you’re wondering about taste, my local organic meat and poultry farm has won awards for taste 3 years running and has been featured by Rick Stein and Radio 4. Nutritionally, organic food is better for you; for example, organic milk has been shown to contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic. One tip about organic: If it isn’t certified, it isn’t worth buying. Certified products have a rigorous set of standards, as The Soil Association explains: http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic/organicstandards. They have set the bar higher than the EU regulations and even cover areas such as fish farming and textiles. Always look for a logo you can trust.
A is for Animal-friendly. As well as buying organic meat and dairy products, the RSPCA Freedom Food logo is what you should look for to guarantee the psychological and physical health of the chicken in your casserole. Here are the Freedom Food standards and a list of the scientists and industry experts that compile them. Most supermarkets stock Freedom Food and Waitrose is a particularly good example of a supermarket trying to stock animal-friendly products.
Animal-friendly, for me, means meat that gives the animal a natural and happy life. It means healthy, appropriate food provided but not force-fed, the use of drugs only as a last resort, time outdoors with the animal’s social group and a quick and virtually painless death. A lot of animals intensively farmed for meat are transported far from their farms to be killed (I’m sure you’ve seen lorries full of sheep on your nearest motorway) and by the time they get there, they are so distressed that there is no fooling them into thinking they’ve been taken on holiday. I would suggest only buying meat that has been slaughtered on the farm or at a slaughterhouse a stone’s throw away. It’s not fair to drag out the dying of an animal. The RSPCA Freedom Food experts agree, with a strict list of rules for pig slaughter. Pigs must be slaughtered as close to the place they were born as possible, kept in their social groups and killed quickly with the minimum of pain and stress. I believe that if an animal is born, raised and dies for human consumption we must manage that animal kindly and responsibly, being grateful for the gift of that animal’s life and death.
F is for Fairtrade. We’ve all seen fair-trade coffee, chocolate and biscuits, but what does fair-trade mean when we buy meat and dairy? Recently, there have been many blockades and protests by dairy farmers in the UK news. For all their hard work, dairy farmers are getting a raw deal from supermarkets, meaning that families and small farms are losing out and facing the end of their businesses. For example, at a protest in Shropshire, farmer Paul Rowbottom described the situation: “People are going to go bust. They’re getting paid about 25p a litre and it’s costing 31p a litre to produce it. All the supermarkets and dairies have got to get the price back to the farmer.” The mega-dairies and supermarkets in-between the farmer and your milk bottle are costing people their livelihoods. Supermarkets and dairies have to get the cheapest milk possible, to pass on the price cuts to customers whilst still getting their profit.
Buying from the farm directly means cheaper food for you, more profit for the farmer and a better deal for everyone. There is no middleman between you and the producer, so they can charge what they know is a fair price for the time and work they have put in. I try to buy meat and dairy with the least links between the producer and the consumer, minimising the financial and environmental cost of transport. The other plus is, I know where my food has come from and how the animals have been treated.
The LOAF system is by no means ‘my’ system, or an original idea. In fact, I got the acronym LOAF from some Benedictine monks! But that’s another story. Happy eating, readers. The planet will thank you in its own delicious way.
Pictures reproduced from:
Article icon: http://planetoftheanimals.blogspot.co.uk/2010_06_01_archive.html
Animal friendly: http://www.redhillfarm.com/about-us/about/what-we-believe-in/
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