What we all know but try to ignore…

As Paul McCartney famously once said – If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”

I think, deep down, we all know this is probably true.  However much we tell ourselves that animals are killed ‘humanely’, after ‘a good life’, and eating meat is, after all, ‘necessary’ etc.  None of us are actually comfortable with another animal having to die so that we can have the pleasure of eating it.  We happily buy and eat meat but we’d rather not think about the process by which that animal gets from the field to our fork.  Most of us would never have the gall to kill a pig, cow, lamb, chicken or duck in order to eat it. Most of us wouldn’t particularly want to bop a tuna over the head with a mallet even! 

At the other end of the spectrum, even my most hardy farming friends, who’ve grown up ‘culling’, ‘processing’ and ‘butchering’ animals still find the task, however necessary they feel it might be, and however pride they may take in doing it well, an unpleasant one.  At a very basic human level, it is never an enjoyable thing to take someone or something else’s life and nor should it be. 

Here’s an interesting article written by Chris Williamson on why he became involved in animal rights activism and converted to veganism which I thought was worth sharing:

THERE are meat-eaters who abhor animal cruelty and vegans who are driven by matters other than animal welfare. But, in my case, the two have always been intrinsically linked.

I vividly remember being horrified as a 14-year-old given a summer job by my local butcher.

Having been led to believe I would be serving behind the counter, I was surprised on my first day to find myself exposed to the slaughterhouse next door.

Rather than serving up some prime steak for Mrs Smith or chicken fillets for Mr Brown, my unglamorous job was to feed sheep intestines through my fingers to be used for sausage skin.

But if that was unpleasant enough, nothing could have prepared me for some of the other horrors that I experienced on that first day.

I saw the fear in the eyes of the animals who were about to be killed. I can still picture that now, just as I can still smell the rank scent of death which filled the air in that awful place.

It was an experience that stayed with me for life and something that influenced my eventual decision that I could no longer partake in this industry.

I made that choice in 1976, some five years after that dreadful experience in the butcher’s slaughterhouse.

Thinking back, I was inspired by people like Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I can even remember hearing Spike Milligan discussing his vegetarianism as he was being interviewed on the Michael Parkinson Show. That unquestionably influenced me, too, and may well have been the deciding factor. But, for me, becoming a vegan was less about emulating my heroes or making a statement.

It was much more about taking what seemed to be the next natural step, as a 19-year-old who was beginning to come to terms with some of the social injustices that would epitomise much of the next couple of decades.

It was an era that shaped the person and politician I became. My ideologies and beliefs were shaped in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and becoming a vegan was part of that.

Cruelty seemed inherent within the meat industry. So why would I want to partake in such a thing when I felt so passionately about it?

I joined the Hunt Saboteurs Association at around the same time and was elected on to the League Against Cruel Sports’ board of trustees in 1979. It’s a position I still hold with pride. And I’m as passionate now about fighting against cruelty to animals as I was back then. That made it easy for me to take my natural position on debates such as fox-hunting before that was finally resolved by the last Labour Government. It also sheds some light on why I have been such a vocal opponent of the appalling badger cull which remains in place, even if our campaign against it has forced the Tory-led Government to slow its progress. All that is because it is easy to campaign on an issue when it rankles with the belief systems you hold at your very core.

I abhor cruelty in any form and the way in which animals are reared has become more intensive, which has inevitably compromised welfare. But there are so many other reasons to believe that eating animals is fundamentally wrong, especially at a time when the earth’s natural resources are under intense pressure and energy efficiency is more topical than ever.

Farmed animals consume 13 pounds of grain for every pound of meat produced.

Even more perversely, farmed fish need to be fed five pounds of wild-caught fish for every pound of flesh produced for human consumption.

It is grossly inefficient and makes no sense whatsoever.

In terms of energy consumption, 11 times more fossil fuel is exhausted to make a calorie of animal protein than it takes to make a calorie of food protein. And the livestock industry is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the world’s climate changing emissions.

Add in other alarming statistics, such as the fact that 50% of antibiotics are used to tackle health problems of animals being reared in intensive conditions, and it casts a dark shadow over the whole meat industry.

So, while my original decision was about cruelty to animals, there are dozens of other factors that reinforce my view that veganism is not just about morals, but about making a sustainable life choice.

Population growth and environmental considerations mean that meat consumption at present levels is untenable. Consequently, the likelihood is that, for future generations, a vegan diet will be the norm rather than the exception that it is today.

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A decent life..? A tragic waste more like

Whilst doing my research into the British meat industry, this is something that really hit me and made me question how justifiable eating meat could possibly be.  Like most people, I always thought to myself that farm animals had long, happy, healthy lives before being sent to a humane slaughter.  I think this is something that we all tell ourselves, although deep down we know that all these animals are killed at a horribly tender age and that there’s no such thing as a humane slaughter.  It’s murder, whether we think it’s justified or not.

But a good life?  Can such a short lifespan really ever be considered ‘a good life’?  Even if they were living on a 5* luxury farm complete with piggy pedicures and farmyard facials, I still don’t think being slaughtered so young can even qualify as ‘a good life’.

Look at the poster below.  Take a good look.  It’s pretty shocking when you think about it.  I know that when I first looked into this I realised that it wasn’t something I’d ever really considered.  Even ‘lamb’ – the clue’s in the name right? But even though I knew it was lamb I never really pictured a lamb when eating lamb.  It’s amazing what associations we let our minds make and what we managed to ignore or suppress. 

If a person dies at these equivalent ages (so with a life expectancy here in the UK of nearly 81 years – that would be the equivalent of being killed between the ages of 1 hour old and 9 years old.  Hardly what we’d ever term ‘a good innings’ is it?  however a happy life a child might have, if that child dies before it’s tenth birthday it’s considered an absolute tragedy to die so young; before his/her life had really even begun; what a waste; how incredibly sad.

So how on earth do we justify taking the lives of these animals at such a tender age? We can’t really can we if we really stop to think about it.  but somehow we all turn a blind eye and billions of animals are slaughtered every year way way before their time.  That’s the real tragedy. 

Study: Global Veganism Would Reduce Carbon Emissions More Than Energy Intervention

Yet another study proving what a devastating effect the meat industry is having on climate change.

Producing nearly 15% of the Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions, the meat industry is one of the top contributors to climate change. Slowly, very slowly, movements like Meatless Mondays and Vegan Before 6 have demonstrated the value, and deliciousness, of adopting a vegan diet, but a carnivorous diet is still seen as evidence of prosperity.

In 2009, researchers at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency calculated that global veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by nearly 17%, methane emissions by 24%, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21% by 2050.

The researchers discovered that worldwide veganism, or even just worldwide vegetarianism, would achieve gains at a much lower cost that an energy intervention, like carbon taxes, for instance.

The study demonstrated tremendous value of a vegan or vegetarian diet in staving off climate change, but there are so many other benefits as well. Antibiotic resistance stemming from the meat consumed that has been pumped full of antibiotics would plummet. Pollution rates would drop significantly as factory farms, the biggest polluters in the meat industry, became a thing of the past. General human health and well-being would rise from a plant-based diet free from cholesterol and pharmaceuticals.

By 2050, the global population is predicted to reach a staggering 9 BILLION people. What are we going to do with all the cows currently taking up 25% of the Earth’s land area?

What if Everyone in the World Became a Vegetarian?

I came across this great article by L.V. Anderson on http://www.slate.com (an online daily magazine) and thought I’d share it with you. 

What if Everyone in the World Became a Vegetarian?

Calculating the chaos and the changed climate.

Vegan burgers with sweet potato and chickpeas.

The meat industry is one of the top contributors to climate change, directly and indirectly producing about 14.5 percent of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and global meat consumption is on the rise. People generally like eating meat—when poor people start making more money, they almost invariably start buying more meat. As the population grows and eats more animal products, the consequences for climate change, pollution, and land use could be catastrophic.

Attempts to reduce meat consumption usually focus on baby steps — Meatless Monday and “vegan before 6,”passable fake chicken, and in vitro burgers. If the world is going to eat less meat, it’s going to have to be coaxed and cajoled into doing it, according to conventional wisdom.

But what if the convincing were the easy part? Suppose everyone in the world voluntarily stopped eating meat, en masse. I know it’s not actually going to happen. But the best-case scenario from a climate perspective would be if all 7 billion of us woke up one day and realized that PETA was right all along. If this collective change of spirit came to pass, like Peter Singer’s dearest fantasy come true, what would the ramifications be?

 

At least one research team has run the numbers on what global veganism would mean for the planet. In 2009 researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published their projections of the greenhouse gas consequences if humanity came to eat less meat, no meat, or no animal products at all. The researchers predicted that universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.

The Dutch researchers didn’t take into account what else might happen if everyone gave up meat. “In this scenario study we have ignored possible socio-economic implications such as the effect of health changes on GDP and population numbers,” wrote Elke Stehfest and her colleagues. “We have not analyzed the agro-economic consequences of the dietary changes and its implications; such consequences might not only involve transition costs, but also impacts on land prices. The costs that are associated with this transition might obviously offset some of the gains discussed here.”

Indeed. If the world actually did collectively go vegetarian or vegan over the course of a decade or two, it’s reasonable to think the economy would tank. According to “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the influential 2006 U.N. report about meat’s devastating environmental effects, livestock production accounts for 1.4 percent of the world’s total GDP. The production and sale of animal products account for 1.3 billion people’s jobs, and 987 million of those people are poor. If demand for meat were to disappear overnight, those people’s livelihoods would disappear, and they would have to find new ways of making money. Now, some of them—like the industrial farmers who grow the corn that currently goes to feed animals on factory farms—would be in a position to adapt by shifting to in-demand plant-based food production. Others, namely the “huge number of people involved in livestock for lack of an alternative, particularly in Africa and Asia,” would probably be out of luck. (Things would be better for the global poor involved in the livestock trade if everyone continued to consume other animal products, such as eggs, milk, and wool, than if everyone decided to go vegan.) As the economy adjusted to the sudden lack of demand for meat products, we would expect to see widespread suffering and social unrest.

A second major ramification of global vegetarianism would be expanses of new land available. Currently, grazing land for ruminants—cows and their kin—accounts for a staggering 26 percent of the world’s ice-free land surface. The Dutch scientists predict that 2.7 billion hectares (about 10.4 million square miles) of that grazing land would be freed up by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares (about 386,000 square miles) of land that’s currently used to grow crops for livestock. Not all of this land would be suitable for humans, but surely it stands to reason that this sudden influx of new territory would make land much cheaper on the whole.

A third major ramification of global vegetarianism would be that the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections would plummet. Currently, the routine use of antibiotics in animal farming to promote weight gain and prevent illness in unsanitary conditions is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 2 million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year and declared that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” The overprescription of antibiotics for humans plays a big role in antibiotic resistance, but eradicating the factory farms from which many antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge would make it more likely that we could continue to count on antibiotics to cure serious illnesses. (For a sense of what a “post-antibiotics future” would look like, read Maryn McKenna’s amazing article on the topic for Medium and her story about a possible solution for chicken farming in Slate.)

So what would be the result, in an all-vegetarian world, of the combination of widespread unemployment and economic disruption, millions of square miles of available land, and a lowered risk of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea? I can only conclude that people would band together to form communes in order to escape capitalism’s ruthlessness, squat on the former pasture land, and adopt a lifestyle of free love.

I kid. Mostly. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re speculating about unlikely scenarios—and sudden intercontinental vegetarianism is very much an unlikely scenario.

But if the result of a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet sounds like a right-winger’s worst nightmare, it’s worth pointing out that continuing to eat as much meat as we currently do promises to result in a left-winger’s worst nightmare: In a world of untrammeled global warming, where disastrous weather events are routine, global conflicts will increase, only the wealthy will thrive, and the poor will suffer.

Let’s try a middle path. We’re not all going to become vegetarians, but most of us can stop giving our money to factory farms—the biggest and worst offenders, from a pollution and public health perspective. We can eat less meat than we currently do, especially meat from methane-releasing ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.). Just because a sudden global conversion to vegetarianism would have jarring effects doesn’t mean we can’t gradually reduce our consumption of meat, giving the market time to adjust. We not only can; we must. After all, with the world’s population slated to grow to 9 billion by 2050, we’ll be needing to take some of the 25 percent of the world’s land area back from the cows.

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.

 

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?