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.