It’s all part of reversing the dreadful trends shown in Food Inc, which revealed that across the whole of the United States there are only nineteen slaughterhouses. One of the worst of many horrific scenes in that film was the handling of pigs – so distressing that I’m not even going to attempt to describe it. 2000 pigs slaughtered every hour in the largest slaughterhouse in America, probably the world.
If we are going to eat meat, we have to demand decent treatment for livestock. Well, I do, anyway – so I ask a lot of searching questions about how far animals have travelled to slaughter and how they were reared. All of Tesco’s meat, as far as I know, is slaughtered in a central processing plant in the Midlands. Waitrose has regional plants, but not very many. Local independent butchers might – or might not – use local facilities, depending on whether they buy the meat in from a mass producer or deal direct with farmers.
When I was growing up, the local butchers in our Essex village had a slaughterhouse attached to the shop; they would slaughter a couple of cows or pigs at a time and the animals never knew a thing. They had travelled no more than a mile or two from their farm. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes exactly the same sort of procedure in his excellent River Cottage Meat Book. I think this is the honest way to go on: insist on compassionate treatment all the way along, which includes a normal outdoor life and a stress-free end; then treat the meat with respect too, wasting none of it.
So, for those of us who do want to carry on eating meat (you too, John!) ask some probing questions. Good butchers locally will give you the right answer. Choose native breeds of animal. (The longhorn cattle in my photo are a hardy native breed that spends all of its time outside. They take longer to mature than intensively reared animals fed on goodness knows what, so they are relatively expensive.) Be moderate in how much meat you buy and be willing to buy the cheaper cuts for stews rather than steaks from time to time. Pay a fair price for high quality. And after that, when you get it home, make the most of it. Everything but the squeak…
Photo: Longhorn cattle and other native breeds in Norwich livestock market