River Cottage Meat Book Review

I’ve been reading The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Now I’ve got to admit to having mixed feelings about Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall. I really appreciate and admire the work he’s done for the cause of better conditions for animals and particularly chickens. However, another side seems to me to be a middle-class, media personality with no real insight into the struggles ordinary people on low incomes have.

The original River Cottage series was fabulous, selling the dream of growing your own and self sufficiency in the country but another part of me recalls that it was TV and however it came across, we’re talking a crew and multiple takes.

Anyway, this book is really good. He argues well for the cause of the ethical carnivore. As he points out, if we didn’t eat meat then the farm animals might survive as a few curiosities in the zoo. But is it any better to treat, as we continue to do, animals as production units?

He also points out that being a vegetarian on moral grounds just doesn’t stand up. If you drink milk, then calves have to be born and die. If you eat eggs, then what about the cockerels? So, being a vegan is an option on moral grounds but not a vegetarian.

He talks at great length about quality and how the supermarkets have made the production of inferior meat the norm – did you know that free-range, grass fed beef is better for you as it contains more Omega 3 fats than concentrate fed cattle?

He explains the details of the way they con persuade us that products are better than they are and implies animal welfare conditions are far better than they really are. Picking out the meat from animals that have been properly cared for and their meat properly handled is a skill most of us don’t have. In fact the labels could be said to be designed to obfuscate and confuse rather than help in that quest.

He explains what you need to know to tell a good butcher from a poor butcher but to me misses the point that the vast majority of people in the UK don’t even ever visit a butcher. They pick up from the chiller shelves in their weekly supermarket shop.

Imagine being unemployed (I hope you’re not) and having a family to feed on an incredibly tight budget. Would you pay two, three, five times as much for your meat and chicken?

It’s not just the unemployed, there’s plenty of people still in work but up to their eyeballs in debt with cards and loans, wondering how to make ends meet. Anyway, whether you can afford to buy the best or not, it’s good to know what the difference is.

Apart from the philosophical discussions, the book is full of hard facts about meat like  where each joint comes from to how to make the most of it. There’s also a  lot of great recipes, methods, hints and tips. For those alone it’s worth having.

In an ideal world, we’d all have the time and money to eat like this. In reality, we do what we can and balance what we can afford with what we want.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
7 comments on “River Cottage Meat Book Review
  1. jacqueline says:

    Breaking news?
    Now, Val really has upstaged you as a media-personality, John, – with her breaking news.
    So sorry about your accident, Val. How frustrating!
    That controversial book “Honest to God” by the Bishop of Woolwich (circa 1970?) was apparently written when he was confined to bed with a bad back.
    So,any chance of you writing a controversial best-seller for the 2000’s Val?
    Best Wishes for a speedy recovery.
    p.s. We find the web-site entertaining and really useful. Thankyou.

  2. Allan says:

    I have to agree with most of your comments about Hugh .
    But one thing i have to disagree with is the cost of the butcher against supermarkets . I have recently started using local butchers as I have realized they seem to charge similar prices and have MUCH better quality . Chicken for instance has much more taste and less water!! Now me being a livestock farmer with sheep out in the fields and Bull beef in the shed, I am one of the places that the little black and white calves end up on so that every one can have there milk in there tea. I know that it may seem that all cattle should graze grass but rest assured people would not step into the countryside if these sort of cattle were in the fields, Me included!! . So please don’t abandon all the meat in favour of the grass fed cattle .
    Just to add my cattle are fed on a barley/beans/protein diet with as much round bale haylige they like .

  3. John says:

    Hi Allan – I bow to your much superior knowledge of cattle. On butchers, my main point is most people don’t ever visit one. The out of town supermarkets sell them the pre-packaged products and that’s all they see.
    There’s also the psychology of meat – we’re becoming so divorced from the source that the traditional butcher scares off consumers who think meat appears in joint sized chunks wrapped in plastic.
    I’ve even heard someone say they don’t want dirty home grown vegetables that have been in soil, they want the clean ones from Asda.

  4. Chris Norton says:

    I work for a small family butchers (I won’t say who to not advertise) and the cost argument in favour of the supermarket is rubbish. We are in the main a pork butcher and are cheaper than Asda for most things porky. Sausages may not be but they are produced from shoulder and nothing else and not snouts and rubbish as some of the ones are.

    Take a visit to your local butchers and be surprised.

  5. John says:

    Hi Chris – I edited the rude word from your post. I don’t argue the butcher is expensive, I argue quality meat is dearer than intensively reared meat wherever purchased and that the supermarkets have dominated the market to the point where most people don’t visit a butcher any more.

  6. Barry says:

    Supermarkets have spent decades selling us over-priced, manufactured, packaged foods. We get shrink-wrapped “convenience”, while they get to suck as much profit as possible from the supply chain, up- and down-stream.

    I very rarely buy meat from supermarkets, but then I am lucky and have a superb butcher who gets most of his meat locally.

    Sadly, most people don’t care about animal welfare and supermarkets exploit that consumer apathy to the full.

    More power to Hugh’s elbow!

  7. Lou says:

    I would love to use a butcher, instead of a supermarket. Unfortunately, when I once asked my local butcher whether they stocked free range eggs or chicken, they looked at me like I had just landed from outer space. Since then, I’ve chosen to buy my meat and poultry from a supermarket, because at least I can confidently choose free-range.

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