The catch 22 of veal…

 

The cruellest foods we eat #3: Veal

 

The below article published in The Telegraph a week ago made me half want to laugh and half want to cry.  On the one hand – yes, if you’re going to eat dairy then you might as well eat veal I guess.  Thousands of unwanted calves is just one of the many necessary evils of the dairy industry that no one likes talking about.  To get cows producing milk, they’ve got to have produced a calf, but then if we want to steal her milk then we have to take the calf out of the equation.  The options – bullet, veal or export. None are very appealing but these sadly are the fate of every single calf born to a dairy cow and if you don’t want to be part of this horrid cycle then you need to stop consuming dairy.

But surely the whole blindingly obvious point is that none of these is preferable to leaving these calves alone to enjoy the milk from their mother, the milk that was intended for them, the milk that we humans do not need.

There are several gems in this article but here are a few of my favourites:

‘Brend’s animals go to the abattoir at six months, which means they don’t have to be dehorned or castrated as older beasts often are. And yes, it’s not very old – but it’s a similar age to pigs and lambs. Alice Swift, Sainsbury’s beef and dairy agricultural manager and a farmer’s daughter herself, insisted, “It’s the number of happy days that count.” ‘  Oh well that’s ok then.  SERIOUSLY?!?!

‘After all, we have to find something to do with the male calves from the dairy industry – so yes, vegetarians, you need to listen up too, as veal is a by-product of cheese, cream and milk.’ – umm… or we could just stop eating dairy altogether and hey presto, problem solved.

‘Some farmers have resorted to shooting the male calves soon after birth, which Brend insisted to me that they hated doing. “But it’s better than just leaving them to starve,”’.  Well quite… how compassionate of you Mr Brend.

Anyway – there’s plenty more illogical, nonsensical gobbledygook in the article which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself…

 

Why it’s time to welcome back veal

The production of veal got a bad name in the Eighties but higher-welfare practices mean we can now enjoy this delicate meat without the guilt trip.

When farmer Mike Brend sits in his office, the view through the picture windows is not of the Devon countryside around his farm. He looks straight into the long airy shed that houses his kindergarten of calves, some close enough to lick the window in front of his laptop. The young stirks – farmerspeak for a bull calves – are surplus from one of the 320 dairy farms that supply Sainsbury’s with their milk, and will produce the supermarket’s higher-welfare veal.

And no, before you shudder, veal isn’t cruel – not this veal anyway, which is endorsed by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme. Times have changed when it comes to veal production. The vilified system of housing veal calves in crates so small they can’t even turn around was outlawed in the UK in 1990. Europe followed in 2007, although according to Compassion in World Farming, on the Continent the animals are often kept in sheds with slatted floors, rather than the higher-maintenance but more comfortable straw that Brend’s calves enjoy.

In fact, it’s time we rehabilitated the pale, delicate meat that has a long gastronomic tradition in dishes such as osso bucco and saltimbocca. After all, we have to find something to do with the male calves from the dairy industry – so yes, vegetarians, you need to listen up too, as veal is a by-product of cheese, cream and milk.

The problem is (and apologies to those of you who already know this) that to keep a dairy cow producing milk, she has to calve regularly – around every 13 or 14 months is usual. When the calf is a female, she can grow up to be a dairy cow like her mum. But the male calves fetch as little as £5 a head at market, and as adults the dairy bulls and bullocks (aka steers, castrated males) are felt not to make good beef. The carcass has a low meat-to-bone ratio, and the prime cuts, the sirloin and the fillet, are smaller. The result is that they are classified as the lowest grade, P for Poor, at the abattoir and fetch as little as a pound a kilo, not enough for the farmer to break even on feed and care costs.

Traditionally the male dairy calves would have had value as veal, as the younger animals show a decent yield. But since the anti-veal-crate protests of the Eighties, the British have rejected the meat wholesale as inhumane. Some farmers have resorted to shooting the male calves soon after birth, which Brend insisted to me that they hated doing. “But it’s better than just leaving them to starve,” he shrugged as we strolled out to meet the contented-looking black-and-white calves in the shed he spent £200,000 building to his own design. “Veal’s had a bad press. This is a chance to rebuild public perception.”

 

 

Brend is not alone with his passion to bring veal back. A small but growing number of frustrated farmers have returned to veal production, attempting to bring around the British to eating ethical veal. Most are producing rose veal, a pink-coloured meat, darker than traditional veal, made with young animals up to about eight months old, raised on beef feed. Some, but not all, will go out to pasture in the summer months, and a very small number, like those produced at Helen Browning’s Eastbrook Farm, continue to feed from a “nurse cow”, usually a retired dairy cow rather than the actual mother.

Sainsbury’s scheme is different on a couple of counts. One is that the farmers are guaranteed a price for their veal calves that is “decoupled” from the market price. This means it is based on cost of production and a reasonable profit, regardless of the fluctuating market price, something that Brend, a first-generation farmer with three children under five to support, finds reassuring.

The second difference is the one that matters to cooks. The calves are fed on a diet of just milk along with barley straw, essential for the roughage to allow their guts to develop properly. The result is a pale veal that is closer to traditional, old-fashioned veal in flavour, but without the appalling welfare issues.

Brend’s animals go to the abattoir at six months, which means they don’t have to be dehorned or castrated as older beasts often are. And yes, it’s not very old – but it’s a similar age to pigs and lambs. Alice Swift, Sainsbury’s beef and dairy agricultural manager and a farmer’s daughter herself, insisted, “It’s the number of happy days that count.”

Only a couple of thousand calves are raised this way a year, in six farms as well as Brend’s, a fraction of the total number of male calves born on Sainsbury’s farms. But the market is growing and Sainsbury’s recently hit £1  million worth of sales in the 18 months it has stocked higher-welfare veal. And looking ahead, Compassion in World Farming would like to see a movement back to mixed-use herds, where most of the cows are impregnated with beef-breed sperm, such as Angus. The resultant mixed-breed calves can be reared for beef, while the mother goes back into milk production.

Back home, I cooked up two veal escalopes, one indoor-reared rose veal from Brookfield Farm in Dorset, the other milk fed from Brend’s herd. Raw, they looked much the same colour, a muted red. But once cooked, the difference was striking. The rose veal was darker, a pale beef colour, with a pronounced grain. The milk fed was pale as chicken breast, and fine-grained, velvety textured. Both were delicious, the rose with a clean beefy flavour, while the milk fed was delicate, sweet and, yes, milky – closer to chicken than beef.

So, take your choice. Outdoor-reared rose is probably the gold-standard welfare choice, but bear in mind that in winter at least it is likely to be indoor reared anyway. For flavour, the rose veal is excellent simply cooked but will stand up to stronger sauces too. But for the veal that Escoffier would recognise, for the classic French dishes, the milk fed is the one.

As for the welfare, Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association as well as a farmer, was pragmatic. “This may be a halfway house, but it is a good place all the same.” Just make sure it is British.

Saltimbocca with spring herbs recipe

A classic saltimbocca is a veal escalope with a single sage leaf pressed on to the soft pink meat, then wrapped in a slice of air-dried ham, before frying in butter. It’s excellent, salty, savoury and sage-y. At this time of year the young top leaves from the traditional hard herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme and bay – have a less powerful flavour, so you can afford to be a little more generous. If you don’t have herbs growing on the windowsill or in the garden, then the tender pots from the supermarket will do very well. Lemon thyme is particularly good.

For each person:

A veal escalope, around 1cm/ ⅜in thick

Two slices of prosciutto

4 or 5 leaves, or tiny sprigs from the very tops of sage, rosemary, lemon thyme or bay – tender and soft

1 tsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp white wine

 

Lay the veal on a chopping board and, with the base of a saucepan, bash it until it is about the thickness of a pound coin. Cut the escalope in half and press the leaves on to the veal, spacing them well. Wrap each piece in prosciutto – depending on the size of your escalope and ham, you may need only half a slice per half escalope. Chill, covered, until you need them.

To cook, drop the butter into a hot frying pan, and when it is foaming add the saltimboccas. Cook until lightly browned on each side – be very careful not to overdo the meat. Lift the saltimboccas on to a warm plate, then add the wine to the pan, stirring and scraping as it bubbles. Pour over the meat and serve with Jersey royals and purple sprouting broccoli, plus a lemon wedge to squeeze over.

 

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The parable of the slaughtered lamb

Came across this article in the Guardian by Alex Renton from back in 2010 whilst researching whether or not I should take kids along to watch a lamb/pig/chicken be slaughtered….  It demonstrates my quandary entirely.

I don’t tell my kids what to eat.  When I’m cooking for them, they eat a vegan diet because that’s what I buy and that’s what I’m having.  When they’re at school or friends houses and we’re out in a restaurant or café they can have whatever they like.  I figure that, as parents, so long as I equip them with the necessary knowledge and information to make their own decisions in life then that’s my job done.  But this is easier said than done.  When it comes to eating meat, dairy and eggs – what is the ‘necessary knowledge and information?’.  Should I take them for a tour of the local slaughterhouse on Saturday?  Should I make them watch a day old calf being dragged away from it’s mother and shot so that we can have its milk.  Should I sneak them a peek inside a stinking, rotten hellhole of a chicken shed stuffed full of 30,000 chickens?  Should I invite them to watch the live baby male chick maceration process…? 

Probably not something a 3 and 4 yr old wants to see.  Probably not something any adult wants to see.  But then if we shelter our children from these things; these everyday things that are absolutely integral to the meat and dairy industry then are we really doing our job?  Are we not creating a generation of ignorant, naïve, misguided children who will go on merrily eating meat without understanding the effects their food choices have on the animals they choose to eat, take milk from or farm for eggs. 

If, as the article above linked to demonstrates, the reality of eating meat is something we want to hide our children from, then does that not tell us all we need to know about whether or not meat should be on the menu at all…?

All thoughts warmly welcomed!   

 

 

I don’t say this often… but well done The Daily Mail!

An article about the effects of animal agriculture on climate change.  Not the most in-depth article but with a readership of nearly 3 million people, this is a huge step towards educating people about the effects and consequences that their food choices heating meat and dairy has on the environment:

Will following the A-listers and going vegan like Gwyneth, Beyonce and Anne help stop global warming?

‘What Would Happen to All the Animals if Everyone Went Vegan?’

 

This question is one of the more annoying I think as it implies a great concern for the animals that they have somehow concluded it’s better to continue raising for slaughter than to stop eating them and risk not having them all around us adorning our green fields.  It goes to the very heart of everything that is wrong with out attitudes towards eating animals.  We have these wonderfully old-fashioned images in our heads of happy cows and chirpy chickens spending their days lolling around in deep green meadows and we think that represents everything that is British and wonderful. ‘Jerusalem’ starts playing in our heads at full tempo – but trust me, go and have a look where your last steak, bacon rasher or chicken breast came from – and the dark satanic mills will more likely spring to mind than England’s pleasant pastures seen!

Thus is the power of advertising!  And it’s just such a naïve and ignorant view that it’s really frustrating how out of touch we are.  Over 99% of meat in the States is factory farmed and the UK is heading the same way!

If any of us saw what was going on behind factory farm fences and slaughterhouse walls I’m not sure we’d hold such a nostalgic scene so close to our hearts!

 In answer to the question above – here is a brief outline of what would happen.

As we reduce the number of animals we are eating, fewer pigs, turkeys, cows, sheep, fish and other animals will be inseminated for breeding so fewer animals will be raised for slaughter, which means less killing and suffering.  Less animals means less demand for GMO corn, soy, alfalfa and other feed grains, and thus less deforestation, monocropping, and pollution. As this continues, there will be more food to go around, and also monocropped land can be returned to being critically-needed habitat for wildlife, whose populations are being decimated by the habitat loss caused by grazing livestock and growing feed grains.

As the vegan trend continues, streams will come back and run cleaner. Birds, fish, and other animals will start to thrive as there will be less toxic pesticides and fertilizers needed, and the oceans, which we are devastating, will slowly begin to heal and replenish. As studies continually demonstrate, livestock production is the main driving force behind global warming, and so this also will decrease. In addition, by eating less animal-based foods, people will be healthier physically as they eliminate the toxic fat, cholesterol, and animal protein that drive obesity, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, and drug dependency. People will become healthier emotionally and spiritually as they feel better about their food choices.  Less people will be forced to work in slaughterhouses which can only be a good thing for them!

The devastating mass extinction of species that is going on right now will slow down. To raise and slaughter hundreds of millions animals daily for food on this planet, we are forcing hundreds of species of animals and plants into extinction every week. Because of our appetites for a few species of birds, mammals, and fish, we are destroying the Earth’s genetic diversity, and it seems absurd to be unconcerned about these tens of thousands of species, but to care only about the few that we’re eating. In any event, the animals we raise for slaughter today for food lived freely in nature for millions of years and could do so again. The animals that we most intensely farm for food and products, such as turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens, and fish, are all doing just fine in the wild (aside from being hunted and having their habitat destroyed!). They would continue to do so, and this is also true for pigs, sheep, and goats, which even today have substantial wild populations. There is no reason to think that the animals we are eating and using wouldn’t be able to return to their natural lives living freely in nature—they already are!

Cows are the only possible question—their progenitors, the aurochs, were forced into extinction in the 1600s, but it is certainly conceivable that cows could be reintroduced into central Asia and Africa where they lived for millions of years, and with time would return to the ecological niche they inhabited before we tore them from their ancestral homelands.

So, it’s a refreshing question to ponder. It’s remarkably uplifting and heartening to reflect on “what will happen if we all stop eating meat, dairy products, and eggs?”   There’s really nothing except our culturally mandated, deeply-ingrained, and deluded habits of routinely abusing animals for food.  Each one of us has the power to stop eating animals and it will take us a small step closer to a happier, more sustainable, more compassionate, peaceful world.